Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has played so well in the middle this year, he’s creating future problems.
With veteran middle linebacker Jon Beason on injured reserve, Kuechly has flourished inside, after starting the season playing the weakside spot to accommodate Beason.
From the day Kuechly was drafted, this was fairly inevitable, but the job of massaging Beason’s feelings (he clearly prefers playing the middle, and is better there) was one the Panthers were careful with.
But now, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he thinks when Beason returns (his recovery from knee surgery is on target, and he’ll have shoulder surgery soon), he’ll come back as an outside linebacker.
“When you look at the different skill sets, I think Jon’s got the skill sets to play inside and outside a little bit more than Luke does. Luke’s skill set lends more toward being an inside guy. So we’ll see,” Rivera said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer.
“It’s still a ways away. But I think we may have found something here. I think it’s one of those things that you do what’s going to be best for us.”
The remarkable comeback of weakside linebacker Thomas Davis adds another factor to the mix, but the biggest remains the looming changes on the Panthers’ horizon.
We know there’s a new general manager on the way, and Rivera can talk about the future as much as he wants, but he doesn’t know if he’s staying (and with a 1-12 record in games decided a touchdown or less, it’s not easy to make a case for him).
With all those known unknowns, the one thing the Panthers know is that they’re well-stocked at linebacker, with Kuechly looking like a cornerstone in the middle. He’s second in the league in tackles and has already tied the franchise’s single-season record.
So whoever’s making the call in Carolina next year would be wise to begin the project with Kuechly in the middle, and work from there.