SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- It doesn’t take long to spot Luke Kuechly on the Carolina Panthers’ practice field. That’s because he’s the guy making big plays.
It happened Tuesday morning when quarterback Cam Newton slightly overthrew tight end Gary Barnidge and Kuechly was there to make the interception. It happened in Saturday’s Fan Fest, when Kuechly picked off another pass.
And it’s been happening in virtually every practice since the start of camp, according to coaches and players. Sure there have been a few moments where Kuechly has looked like a rookie. But, more often than not, Kuechly has been showing why the Panthers pounced on him with the No. 9 overall pick in the draft. He played middle linebacker at Boston College, and there’s still a chance Kuechly could end up back there some day. But Jon Beason is in the middle right now, and Kuechly is working on the outside with the first team and making strong impressions.
Offensive tackle Jordan Gross has seen a lot of linebackers come and go through the years, but he said it’s obvious Kuechly is going to have an instant impact. Kuechly can drop in pass coverage, chase down running backs, and he’s even showing some strong skills as a pass-rusher.
“He’s been as advertised,’’ Gross said. “He’s got a nose for the ball and he throws his body around, and that’s what you want out of a linebacker. One thing that stands out is that when he blitzes, he rushes the passer, he doesn’t just blitz and stop if a lineman picks him up. He’s got moves, and his effort is good. If you get your hands on him, he wants to get off there and make a play. He doesn’t really act like a rookie at all.’’
The rookie moments have faded and that’s expected to continue. The Panthers already are set on Kuechly and Beason as starting linebackers. The third spot is up for grabs between Thomas Davis, who is returning from a knee injury, and James Anderson, who led the team in tackles last season.