Spotlighting a breakout NFL performer

Luke Kuechly. (Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images/AFP)

Luke Kuechly. (Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images/AFP)

JOHN KRYK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:50 PM ET

THE NEW BIG PLAYER

Spotlighting a breakout performer

LUKE KUECHLY, LB, Carolina Panthers

Better learn how to say his name properly now, before your NFL-expert friends correct you all the time.

Because you're going to be hearing a lot about this guy over the next 10 years or so. I mean the Carolina Panthers' rookie inside linebacker Luke Kuechly (pronounced KEEK-ly).

He was a tackling monster who made big plays at Boston College, and he did the same in the pre-season with the Panthers, in one game racking up 10 tackles against the Jets in less than three quarters.

After admittedly playing out of control early in last week's Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Kuechly settled down and helped the Panthers defence corral the Bucs offence. He finished with four tackles.

"It’s still a process," Kuechly, the ninth overall draft pick, told the Charlotte Observer a couple weeks ago. "But I think from the first (pre-season) game until now, it’s definitely been slowing down a little bit."

And he isn't just a maniacal run-stopper. Unlike many inside NFL linebackers, Kuechly can stay on the field in nickel or other sub-packages (on passing downs) and be just as impactful. If not more.

"He's the best pass-dropping inside linebacker from the inside I've ever seen in college football," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said in the spring. "He has instincts and speed ... The NFL is a pass-first league, and there is value in Luke Kuechly."

Don't the Panthers know it.

Most experts will be shocked if he's not named the NFL's defensive rookie of the year come January.

WRONG PLAYER, COACH

To the Browns: Pull Weeden before it's too late

Brandon Weeden, the rookie Cleveland Browns quarterback, was downright terrible in Week 1 against the Eagles.

As ugly as ugly gets in today's NFL: 12-of-35, for 118 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions — for a passer rating of 5.1.

Statistically, only one other NFL quarterback in the past 23 years has been as bad.

It appears Weeden is not remotely ready to help the Brownies win — if that's even possible, given that Cleveland started the season with 26 rookies or second-years on its 53-man roster. (Half!)

Weeden's confidence probably will shatter after a few more weeks of this.

Yes, the Eagles defence might be among the league's best. Asterisk noted. But the right side of the Browns' offensive line caved all game long against Philly. Cleveland doesn't exactly have Julio Jones and Roddy White at WR either. And until or unless rookie running back Trent Richardson can provide a dangerous running-game threat, well, who's kidding who.

If Weeden is the franchise's future, protect him. Don't ruin him.

The old kid himself must know that at his age (28), he probably won't have a Rich Gannon-esque second try at this down the road.

Better to take the helmet off, watch from the sidelines, learn this year, and try not to get hurt as Colt McCoy gets beers thrown at him all game long from the second deck.

You kept McCoy for a reason, Cleveland. Insert him.

CALLING AN AUDIBLE

Hello, Mike Tice! Help out Cutler!

Before Thursday's game at Green Bay, Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice had this to say about keeping Packers blitz specialist Clay Matthews away from his QB, Jay Cutler:

"We're not going to specifically scheme for him, if that's what you're asking. Our guys have to buck up to the challenge."

His offensive linemen bucked up, all right.

Matthews sacked Cutler 3.5 times. His Packers teammates joined in on the fun too, sacking Cutler seven times in all, and harassing him throughout.

Time and time and time and time and time again, Cutler dropped back, right into the nub of the pocket and, as he waited for his receivers to try to get open on slow-developing routes, ... THUMP. Then he'd do it again. WHACK. And again. SMASH. And again. WHUMP.

How about this next time, coach Tice? Lose the pride, accept reality and call a better game.

First, max protect more. And for the love of Halas, mix in some quick slants, quick ins and quick outs — see Brady, Tom. Then call some sprint draws and screen passes for your talented back.

All these things tend to slow up, or even neutralize, a pass rush. If that's too much like specifically scheming for the Clay Matthewses, get over it. And do it anyway.

 


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