Luke Kuechly: First-step phenom

08/30/2014 12:00 AM

08/27/2014 10:14 PM

The Carolina Panthers had some scouting help when evaluating Luke Kuechly.

The son of coach Ron Rivera’s former Bears teammate and good friend Jim Morrissey was roommates with Kuechly at Boston College. Morrissey watched Kuechly’s every snap for three years, and the former linebacker knew Kuechly had something special.

“And Jim, being a linebacker, said he had the best first-step quickness he had ever seen,” Rivera said. “The thing I noticed, Luke can take a bad step, but his recovery step is better than anyone’s I’ve ever seen. Better than (Hall of Fame linebacker) Mike Singletary’s.”

Kuechly was a two-time All-American at Boston College and won any defensive award of merit in his junior season.

The Panthers were looking for insurance for Jon Beason. In 2011 the team made Beason the highest-paid linebacker in NFL history with a deal worth more than $50 million over five years, but he tore his Achilles that season and the team was unsure what kind of player he’d be upon his return.

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said the team was looking for a player with year-to-year-to-year success as it built its defense, and the Panthers saw that with Kuechly, who set the ACC record for career tackles (532) in just three seasons.

The team tried Kuechly out at outside linebacker and tried Beason at middle linebacker, but that experiment lasted four games as Beason went on injured reserve and, eventually, was traded to the Giants.

Kuechly went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, and last season he won the coveted Defensive Player of the Year in just his second season when he led the league’s second-ranked defense.

“He’s got the ‘it’ factor, as we all know,” McDermott said. “Now we sit here and say did we know he’d be as good as he is as quickly as he is? I’d be lying if I said that was the case, at least for me. We thought we had something, but it’s a testament to Luke, it’s a testament to our personnel department and it’s a testament to the linebacker coaches that he’s had.”

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