Boston College coach: Panthers have gem in Kuechly

By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer
    2012-04-27 17:36

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - At first glance Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly may not look like an NFL linebacker, what with his curly black hair, wire rim glasses and unassuming demeanor.

Boston College football coach Frank Spaziani knows differently.

Spaziani said Kuechly ``looks like Clark Kent and plays like Superman.''

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Carolina already has one Superman impersonator on offense in quarterback Cam Newton, but could certainly use a few more on the other side of the ball.

The Panthers injury-depleted defense surrendered 26.8 points per game last season and ranked 28th in the league overall. Kuechly, who led the nation in tackles the last two seasons and won the Bronko Nagurski Award given to the nation's top defensive player this past season as a junior, looks to help change all that.

Kuechly said he has tremendous respect for the team's veteran players but thinks he can ``make an impact'' for the Panthers right away.

``I think that's probably everyone's goal - to come in and make an impact,'' said Kuechly, who was introduced at a press conference Friday in Charlotte after meeting with team owner Jerry Richardson for about an hour.

Spaziani has no doubt he will have an impact.

``His production just stands out,'' said Spaziani, who coached Kuechly for three seasons. ``You just turn on the tape. He's one of the premier players in the country. He has tremendous instincts. He has those things you can't teach.''

In fact, there have been times when Spaziani has stopped teaching Kuechly altogether.

``With him, the less coaching the better,'' he said. ``A long time ago someone told me about good linebackers - get them lined up and let them go. You tell him what to do and he goes and does it. And game in and game out he never ceased to amaze me.''

Kuechly averaged 14 tackles per game for his career and had 191 tackles last season for the Eagles.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the combination of Kuechly's size, speed and football intellect made him a ``no-brainer'' with the ninth pick.

Kuechly ran a 4.58 in the 40 at the Scouting Combines, faster than what current Panthers starting linebackers Jon Beason, Thomas Davis and James Anderson ran when they came out of college.

``We feel very satisfied with him,'' Rivera said. ``That's why it didn't take us long to turn in our card to get him."

Kuechly wasn't always a linebacker.

He arrived at Boston College weighing 215 pounds having played a hybrid linebacker-safety position in high school. Spaziani said it didn't take long to notice Kuechly's natural instincts and the Eagles quickly moved him to linebacker.

He stopped playing lacrosse, one of his favorite sports in high school, started eating appropriate foods and began working out more with trainers upon his arrival at Boston College.

He's since bulked up to 245 pounds.

``Just this past year he started to look like a real linebacker physically,'' Spaziani said.

Of the previous five players the Panthers have drafted in the first round, four were on offense, including Newton, the No. 1 overall pick a year ago.

Kuechly said he spoke to Newton on the phone Thursday night.

They met while working out earlier this offseason in Bradenton, Fla. Both are represented by the same agency and Kuechly said he's eager to be on the same sidelines with Newton, a budding NFL star.

``Cam said he's excited,'' Kuechly said. ``He said he might be around today and he's ready to get to work. He's excited to get this season going.''

So is Kuechly.

It's still unclear what linebacker position he'll play when the Panthers host a rookie minicamp in two weeks, but Kuechly doesn't seem to care. Rivera said before the draft he expects the team's first-round pick to step in and start right away, and that has Kuechly excited.

``I think anyone who goes in, they want to start,'' Kuechly said. ``I think that's the thing with football is you want to go in and play.

``They've got a lot of good guys in right now so you've got to get in there and start working and earn the respect from the older guys. Hopefully something good happens from there.''

Spaziani promises the Panthers won't be disappointed.

``The thing with Luke is he's a better person than he is a football player - and I think he's a great football player,'' Spaziani said. ``He's humble and not caught up with himself. That's why we used to tease him about being Clark Kent.''