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Panthers rookies making progress

Posted Sep 18, 2012

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly is beginning to realize how much more demanding the NFL schedule is compared to the college one he's played the last three years.

"At this point in the college season," Kuechly said, "you're halfway through."

Counting the preseason and two regular season games, Kuechly has already played in six NFL contests. In the 12-game college schedule, there is no preseason.

That increased workload is an adjustment for all rookies.

"It's a process right now," Kuechly said. "Game by game, snap by snap, I'm getting more used to it."

Kuechly has recorded nine tackles in two games, and he's learned just how difficult it can be to read plays and track down ball carriers at this level.

"The gaps aren't there as much as they used to be," Kuechly explained. "There are a little bit bigger guys (blocking) and they know where the gaps are and they know how to squeeze the gaps."

Kuechly enjoyed his first regular season NFL victory last Sunday in the home opener against the Saints, and that's something he can't wait to experience again.

"It's crazy, the difference between a winning locker room and a losing locker room," Kuechly said. "When you win, the pads get taken off a lot slower because everyone is going around (celebrating). When you lose, the pads are off, guys are in and out quick.

"Everyone wants to savor the moment after a win, and it was a good win for us against the Saints to get back on track."

SILATOLU TAKES BIG STEP: After struggling against the Buccaneers in Week 1, rookie guard Amini Silatolu rebounded with an impressive outing versus New Orleans.

Silatolu provided a push in the running game and displayed his athleticism, pulling and getting downfield to help spring some long runs.

"I was excited to watch Amini. There's really good tape on him this week," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He played a physical game. He made a couple mistakes still, but the young man made a big leap.

"Last week he was okay to questionable against Tampa Bay, but he came in and the coaches are working with him. He focused in and played really hard."

NORMAN HOLDING HIS OWN: Rookie cornerback Josh Norman went toe-to-toe with Vincent Jackson at Tampa Bay, and then covered Marques Colston for significant stretches against New Orleans. His Week 3 assignment includes the Giants' Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

Those are some big names lining up at wide receiver, but Rivera insists that he and the coaching staff expect the rookie corner to handle those situations.

"We put him out there like we would any other guy, we really did," Rivera said after the victory over the Saints. "We didn't do anything special to help Josh. Josh is a professional football player. We've started rookies in the past and we're not afraid to put them out there."

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has been pleased with Norman's production in his first two starts.

"So far it hasn't been too big for him. He's coming from Coastal Carolina and he hasn't shied away," McDermott said. "He's got a feel for the game and on top of that, as a corner, I love that he's a willing tackler."