As Carolina Panthers training camp gets underway Thursday, expectations are high as quarterback Cam Newton is entering his third year and figures to continue his improvement in becoming the franchise quarterback fans expect him to be.
Aside from the offense, though, there will be a few guys in particular to watch and see how the defense responds to their leadership and improvement as well. Reigning defensive rookie of the year, Luke Kuechly, comes into his second season as a legitimate leader on this defense and has already established himself as one of the better linebackers in the NFL.
The former Boston College standout had a phenomenal rookie year while he compiled 164 total tackles, eight passes defensed, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Kuechly also added in a sack for good measure, but was mainly more of a field general for Carolina last season.
At only 22 years old, the Panthers have to be thrilled with how Kuechly is developing. His professional game is already close to being top-notch, and Panther fans I’m sure would argue that he’s already there.
For the most part as of late, the Panthers have been able to score points at a decent rate but their defense hasn’t allowed them to win games. With an explosive quarterback like Newton leading the way, the defense must be the reason they win games — not Newton.
Taking pressure off of Newton by putting him in the best scenario to win games will be Kuechly’s main goal this year and he is off to a great job so far in that effort. In camp, he will show up as a much different guy than he did last season. As a rookie, it’s typically harder to be vocal and more of a leader but after his performance in 2012 he should have no problem.
His poise on the field and in the locker room is a big reason why he’s already so highly respected by the team, and using that to his advantage in leading this defense will be huge in 2013. He will be more of a coach on the field as his career goes on, almost like Brian Urlacher had been in his career with the Chicago Bears.
I am excited to see what Kuechly does in his second season with the Panthers but more importantly, right now, how he performs and leads his defense during training camp.