Where will Kuechly play?

Because of the uncertainty about the comebacks of linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, it's a question they won't have to answer until training camp.

Because of the uncertainty about the comebacks of linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis, it's a question they won't have to answer until training camp.

But where the Panthers put first-round pick Luke Kuechly will speak volumes about their plan for the coming year.

Head coach Ron Rivera indicated Kuechly could play the middle with Beason sliding out to the weak side. That could cut into the reps for Thomas Davis.

"You get excited about who he is as a football player," Rivera said.

Of course, Beason's still recovering from a torn Achilles, and Davis from his third ACL tear, so the distinction isn't important yet.

But down the road, it might be.

Beason clearly prefers being in the middle, and that's what they gave him a six-year, $51 million extension last summer to do. While he's good in coverage, if he loses anything in his recovery Kuechly might be a better bet in coverage.

That could limit Davis' reps in his latest comeback, but after taking a significant pay cut this offseason, they're not in the spot of having to count on him.

Adding a high-profile rookie at a position that wasn't the thinnest on the roster raised some eyebrows, and made several players wonder what the plan was.

Smoothing over some feelings will have to happen before camp starts, but that's a job for Rivera.

Kuechly's playing the good rookie at the moment, emphasizing that he has to fit into the Panthers' scheme, not the other way around.

"There are a lot of areas that can be difficult," Kuechly said. "It's a new system for one, and it's going to be bigger and faster.

Everyone comes in wanting to be a starter, but they've got a lot of good guys here. I've got to get in here and start working, start earning the respect of the older guys and then hopefully something good happens from there.

"You've got to be humble because you've got to start over again. You can't come in with an overly big head because you haven't done anything yet. You might have done all right in college, but moving forward it's a different level."


NOTE: Linebacker Luke Kuechly was given uniform No. 59, and that might be a subliminal message as much as anything. That was the number Panthers coach Ron Rivera wore when he played for the Chicago Bears in the 1980s.

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