Though a new contract doesn’t appear imminent, talks between the Carolina Panthers and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly are “heating up,” a league source told the Observer.
Last week there was some concern that the deal wouldn’t be done before the start of the regular season, with one source calling it “50-50.” But talks became more serious in recent days.
Kuechly, a two-time All Pro and 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is set to become the highest-paid linebacker in the NFL. A fourth-year player, Kuechly is in the final year of his rookie contract and is already under contract in 2016 on his fifth-year option worth $11.058 million.
Two young linebackers, Tampa Bay’s Lavonte David and Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, have already gotten contract extensions this training camp.
Kuechly has said he’s not concerned about a new deal and that it will happen when it happens.
Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has said he does not negotiate contracts during the regular season, hence the preseason deadline.
Thompson gets more work
Linebacker Shaq Thompson got his most extended work with the first-team defense in a preseason stalled multiple times with hamstring injuries.
Thompson, the team’s first-round selection from the spring, worked with both the first and second teams as the Panthers try to figure out where the rookie fits into the system.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has said a rookie needs about 5,000 snaps before things become second nature for him. He sees Thompson as being “way under” after sitting out most of organized team activities, minicamp and training camp.
“Quiet honestly what you hope for is the progression,” Rivera said. “As he goes through it, each phase of the year is going to be a number. It’s going to be a mark for him. Quiet honestly, he’s probably somewhere around 350-400 (snaps), and you want more. You really do. It’s important.
“For something to become second nature, simple and easy, it’s going to take at least 5,000 reps. He’s got a long way to go. The more we can drill with him. The more walkthrough stuff we can do with him, the more practice time he gets, the quicker he’s going to learn. We’re going to put him in that position. We kind of have to force-feed him.”
Rivera said because they’re so far behind with Thompson, the Panthers will likely have to show more defensive strategy in Saturday’s exhibition against the Dolphins than they’d like. At Monday’s practice he was seen as part of a number of blitz packages with the first-team defense.
Wegher’s TD ball not a keeper
Brandon Wegher saw the left part of the field open in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s win at Buffalo and knew he had a chance to score.
Down 24-17, Joe Webb lined up in shotgun with Wegher to his right. Wegher, an undrafted rookie, saw he wasn’t needed in pass protection and got into his route, where he caught a throw across Webb’s body and took it 42 yards for a touchdown.
“Right when I caught the ball, I was like, ‘Man, I got a chance to score,’” Wegher said Monday at Wofford College. “If I haul down there I have a chance.
“Going into the game, I wasn’t sure I was going to get any reps at running back. So when I did get in there in the fourth quarter, I just wanted to make the most of those opportunities.”
Wegher knows he’s the fifth running back on the depth chart behind Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne and Jordan Todman. So he had to seize opportunities on both offense and special teams when they came his way.
While most players will keep the football from their first NFL score, Wegher did not. He simply forgot.
“When I hit the ground, I lost it and then we went right back out of the 2-point conversion so it really wasn’t on my mind until we got on the bus,” Wegher said. “I was like, ‘Man, I really wish I would have gotten that.’”
▪ In the last afternoon practice in Spartanburg on Monday, the Panthers wrapped up 12 minutes early because of a high tempo. Rivera was pleased with the energy and speed with which the team played in their no-huddle session when the offense ran 18 plays in 10 minutes.
▪ Defensive end Charles Johnson participated in positional drills before leaving the field on the cart. Johnson has battled a sore calf for a week, and he finished working inside on the machines.
▪ Defensive end Kony Ealy made the play of the day when he scooped a small boy, no more than 4 years old, off the practice field as the offense broke the huddle and players began to line up.
▪ Charles Tillman brought back the Peanut Punch when he jarred the ball loose from running back Fozzy Whittaker. Tillman came on a corner blitz and punched it away, but Whittaker recovered.
▪ Tillman also showed a nice jamming technique on rookie receiver Devin Funchess. His coverage of Funchess led Newton to take the ball down and run with it.
▪ Defensive tackle Kawann Short returned to practice after missing the majority of camp with back spasms. Receiver Kelvin Benjamin had soreness in his back from Friday’s game and did not participate.
▪ Second-year receiver Corey Brown hauled in two deep passes.
Getting to know ...
DE Arthur Miley
Weight: 265 punds.
NFL experience: Rookie.
The scoop: Miley was undrafted and signed with the Panthers, whom he picked instead of the Eagles, in May. Miley was one of the top pass rushers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. He had been having a relatively quiet camp until Monday when he worked with the first- and second-team defenses. Miley could see more work there Tuesday.
Twitter handle: @97Tha_Future
QB/WR Joe Webb
Q. Is RB Brandon Wegher faster than you are?
A. “You never know until you line us both up and race, but I’m always going to take myself in a race over anybody.”
Q. Over anybody on this team?
A. “Anybody, man. Anybody. Even if I lose, I’m still going to take myself.”
Q. You say sometimes in workouts you may try to test guys in a race. Have you tested Cam yet?
A. “Ahhh, I tested Cam, but we’re going to leave it right there.”
Three to watch
Three Carolina Panthers to watch in Tuesday’s practice in Spartanburg:
30 Running back Jordan Todman continues to impress with his speed and cuts.
29 Safety Dean Marlowe had the game-ending interception Friday in Buffalo and could use more of those plays.
60 Rookie right tackle Daryl Williams continues to look solid with the second-team offense.