A.J. Klein prepared to start if needed

CHARLOTTE – Linebacker Luke Kuechly hasn't missed a game in three-plus seasons, and he's doing all he can to keep that streak alive.

But Kuechly, who remains in the concussion protocol, missed practice again Thursday. His status for Sunday's home opener remains unclear.

"He's champing at the bit," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You know who he is and what he's all about. This is tough on him, but there's a protocol you have to follow. He wants to be out there in the worst kind of way. That's who the young man is.

"We can't let him get ahead of himself. He wants to be on the field so bad. He wants to be out there with his guys."

But Rivera made it clear the Panthers will err on the side of caution as Kuechly progresses through the protocol.

"We are going to be smart," Rivera said. "It's a long season."

Fortunately for Carolina, there is an experienced backup ready and waiting if his number is called.

A.J. Klein, who filled in quite well at the middle linebacker spot when Kuechly left the game at Jacksonville, gives Rivera plenty of assurance despite Kuechly's uncertain status.

"I like the four (linebackers) that we have as our first four, and that includes A.J.," Rivera said. "I think he is going to play well again. I'm not worried about him. I'm very confident, very comfortable with it."

Klein, who has 10 career starts under his belt, appears confident and comfortable as well.

"I'm not sure yet (if I am starting for Luke), but I'm preparing like I am," Klein said. "I prepare like I am going to start every single week. My approach doesn't change.

"I'll be ready to go."

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