Linebacker is one of the most recognizable positions in football, aside from quarterback. Everyone can picture a big, gnarly, beast of man like Dick Butkus or Jack Lambert hammering an unsuspecting ballcarrier. The middle linebacker is almost like the spokesperson of the defense, with their grit and brutality standing in stark contrast to the clean precision of the quarterback. They are the heart and soul of the defense, the players that set the tone with their hits and reads. They may not rack up sacks or interceptions like defensive linemen or defensive backs, but no one has more of an effect on the defense than the linebackers.
The Carolina Panthers have been blessed with one of the deepest and most talented 4-3 linebackers groups in recent memory, and that has become one of their trademarks. The line may give up huge running lanes and the secondary may give up long pass plays, but the linebackers can always be counted on to rack up tackles. So, how will they fare this season? Here’s a breakdown:
Both Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have been hampered by major knee injuries in the past, but both are capable of stardom. Each of them has logged multiple 100 tackle seasons, with Beason being named an All-Pro when he manned the middle for the Panthers. They are both exceptional in coverage as well, with Beason logging eight career interceptions and Davis getting his pedigree at safety. Behind this stellar duo are rookie A.J. Klein and Jordan Senn, who made a name for himself in place of Beason last year. Klein drew many comparisons to star middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, but I doubt he’ll be as good as he is. One can hope though.
Middle Linebacker is the quarterback of the defense in a 4-3, and no one is better at it than Kuechly. In only his second year, Kuechly is being put in the same conversation as studs Patrick Willis and Sean Lee, with some even placing him above them. Kuechly is a master of reading plays and has the conviction to finish when he sees them. He always seems to know what the play is, and he always lays the wood when he gets to the ballcarrier. He is the future of the Panthers defense. Behind Kuechly is former New York Giants standout Chase Blackburn, who is best known for his performance in Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots. He has the versatility to line up in any of the three spots, and should be invaluable in the rotation.