Luke Kuechly out of concussion protocol, picks up 'where he left off'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was sweaty just like the rest of his teammates after Tuesday's practice, his first in a month after being sidelined with a concussion.

He admitted it felt good.

"When you want to go out there and you're sitting in here and all the guys come in, they're all sweaty, they had a good practice ... you're just like, 'Man!'" Kuechly said as he recalled the past month.

"It's like you're in timeout and you can't go out and play with your friends. It's like detention and they're at recess and you can't hang out with them."

Kuechly was cleared from the league's concussion protocol Tuesday after meeting Monday with the independent neuro consultant.

That was the final step in a process that began after the two-time Pro Bowler suffered a concussion late in the first half of the Sept. 13 opener at Jacksonville.

The timing couldn't be better for the 4-0 Panthers as they begin preparing for Sunday's game at two-time defending NFC champion Seattle.

"It's like he picked up right where he left off, communicating, running around all over the place, doing things that are typical of Luke," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "It really was great to have him out there. It was a long process, but the process was what it needed to be."

The concussion was the first for Kuechly, the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He knew right away when he awkwardly tackled Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon after a short pass over the middle that something was wrong.

"I tried to get up," Kuechly said. "I tried to shake it off. Then I knew something was wrong. That's my only way to describe it. It's a weird situation. I hit him, and I knew something wasn't quite right, and I tried to get up and it wouldn't go away."

Among Kuechly's symptoms were headaches and slow reaction time.

"It's one of those things you can't quite explain because something is wrong, something is just not right, stuff may be slow," Kuechly said. "Now everything is back to full speed and good to go."

As anxious as Kuechly was to get back on the field, the advice he listened to the most was to take his time recovering.

He's not concerned with long-term effects that other NFL players have experienced and brought up in lawsuits, which led the league to implement a more strict protocol over the past five years.

"I was told as long as you give it time and let it heal, you're not going to be any more susceptible to one in the future," Kuechly said.

Rivera said there were times "you could tell it was frustrating" for Kuechly because he wanted to get back on the field. He said that at times, head trainer Ryan Vermillion had to tell Kuechly to slow down and back off.

"He really tried to push himself, and that's who he is," Rivera said. "He wants to be out there, but I tried to look and see if there was a difference in him with certain things, and I could see the frustration in his face."

Rivera said he will use caution with how much Kuechly plays against Seattle. He doesn't want to put his star player in jeopardy if he's not 100 percent conditioned for every snap.

Kuechly, who seldom has come off the field since being selected in the first round of the 2012 draft, doesn't think that will take long.

But Kuechly admitted it was frustrating with every week that passed and he wasn't cleared.

"I want to play as much as I can because that's what I love to do," he said. "It's weird. You can't tape it up, you can't suck it up. It's one of those things that you've just got to wait for it to go away.

"That was probably the most difficult part, knowing that you can't really tough it out."