Old habits never die–or something of that nature. At least that was the case for Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly this past Sunday.
A huge value was placed on Kuechly when the Panthers decided to draft him ninth overall in last April’s NFL Draft. Kuechly, a middle linebacker at Boston College, was forced to move to the outside because Panthers Pro-Bowler Jon Beason already had the middle position occupied and rightfully so. The Panthers had also placed a huge value on Beason by making him the highest paid middle linebacker in the NFL prior to the start of 2011.
In short, there was no way for Kuechly to reclaim his college position in the pros. So, Kuechly needed to adapt to a new role, an adjustment most rookies in the NFL have to make.
However, this past Sunday, Kuechly might have raised a few eyebrows when returning to his old position.
Up until week five of the regular season, Kuechly had been performing solidly as an outside linebacker though he hadn’t forced any turnovers or quarterback sacks. Kuechly was still picking up tackles on the outside, but none with a significant impact on any of Carolina’s first four games.
On Sunday, against the Seattle Seahawks and with Beason sidelined due to a hurt knee, the door was left wide open for Kuechly to make a statement.
He did just that, leading the Panthers with 11 tackles on Sunday and coming up with his first career interception.
Kuechly still didn’t register any sacks on Sunday, which is something he really needs to add to his tool shed if he hopes to make a name for himself at the NFL level.
Even with Kuechly’s strong performance against Seattle, it still doesn’t look like he will regain his old spot on the field. The Panthers should really consider making a change at middle linebacker, not because Beason has played poorly at the position, but because his talents could fit elsewhere.
Beason is fast and has the ability to make dynamic plays on the outside. In fact, Beason might be better suited at applying pressure on the quarterback from the outside, therefore allowing Kuechly to focus on tackling running backs.
Defensively, the Panthers must make adjustments during their bye week. They can’t go on giving up huge chunks of yards to opposing running backs because of poor tackling.
Carolina put such a high value on Kuechly for a reason. He can make big tackles and he’s good at it.
After last week, Kuechly might have just regained his old position, the same position that allowed him to be drafted ninth overall.
Robert Kester, Carolina Panthers Columnist. Contact @robertkester1.