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Carolina Panthers

Chalk Talk: Kuechly and Stewart talk Bryce Young, Dave Canales and favorite memories

Luke Kuechly on sideline

CHARLOTTE– Jonathan Stewart and Luke Kuechly have seen a winning machine from the inside. They know what it takes, on both sides of the ball, to prepare a championship culture from the locker room, to practice, to games, and beyond. They understand, and pardon the easy cliché, a winning culture.

It's why Stewart has been so encouraged by all he has seen from new head coach Dave Canales in recent weeks.

"I'm excited for them to just have an environment that they can grow," Stewart said Wednesday night, speaking at an event announcing a partnership between the Carolina Panthers and FanDuel.

"Having a coach like (Dave Canales) lead the charge, a good coach creates a good environment because, at the end of the day, you have to learn every day. Every game, every win, every loss, you have to learn, and if you don't have a good environment to learn, which—you're going to make mistakes, you have to be able to grow from them.

"I look back at our 2015 season, going to the Super Bowl, that was the environment. The environment was, 'hey, look, you dropped the pick in practice. Why?' In games, he was catching them. So, the accountability, the structure that we had is, is something very similar to what I see developing with the staff and Dan Morgan, he is the main key to all that."

Wins come when culture and scheme merge. According to Kuechly, the latter will depend largely on how the Panthers surround quarterback Bryce Young. Kuechly feels that an offensive front modeled after what the New Orleans Saints did with quarterback Drew Brees can be done.

Neither Young nor Brees is over six feet tall. Working with the quarterback to enhance his strengths, therefore, means focusing on the interior offensive linemen.

"What hurt us last year on offense was there was so much going on," Kuechly explained. "We were banged up inside, and our offense is built a lot like how New Orleans was built with Drew (Brees). They had three hosses on the inside of that offensive line. Both those guards were gigantic humans. It was Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans. Both those guys are 350 pounds, all of it, and you can't push the pocket vertically.

"We lost that last year with Austin (Corbett) and Brady (Christensen) being down; they're not as big bodies as those guys, but they can sit down, they can anchor, that whole rush doesn't kill him, and Bryce could do his thing last year."

The statement largely echoes what Canales told reporters at the NFL Combine last week.

"Guard play, center play, really big," Canales said last week. "(There) was a, eight or nine years ago, Drew Brees study, how the Saints build their line. They want to make sure that they're really sound inside and that they create that depth of a pocket with a guy who's vertically challenged.

"Is it the person in there? Yes, but it also goes to technique. It goes to how we set protections and things like that."

Regardless of any personnel changes or updated playbooks, though, Kuechly feels confident that Young will take a step forward simply because that's the nature of the NFL.

"I just think seeing the game, that first snap he takes in the regular season, he's going to know what it's like, and there's not as many new things every year," Kuechly said. "Your rookie year, stuff is always brand new. The first time you see certain looks is the first time.

"Bryce, last year, he played from preseason camp all the way to college into combine prep, into the combine, into visits, into the draft, into OTAs, into the season. And now, this is the first opportunity that he gets a chance to just sit back and take a break. So when he rolls in the OTAs this year, it's just going to slow down. I think that's the biggest thing is the game just slows down."

Bryce Young

A lifetime of memories

Of course, when two Panthers legends are in a room together, stories and memories will naturally arise. During Wednesday night's FanDuel event, moderator Kay Adams often turned things over to the duo, not wanting to interrupt their trip down memory lane.

Here are a few of Kuechly and Stewart's best stories from the evening:

Thanksgiving Day Game, 2015, Panthers vs. Cowboys (Panthers win 33-14)

Stewart: "We're in Dallas, Thanksgiving game, and I think earlier in the week (Luke) you were talking about what (Tony Romo) was going to do. We were probably sitting in the locker room, or TV (room), I'm not really sure, but you were going over a game plan and basically, 'these are the route combinations that he's going to be looking for. When he's looking for it, I'm going to jump the route and go take it the distance."

Kuechly: "It was an interesting play we had. It was, they had three receivers on one side, and we showed a pressure look, and the guy that was supposed to cover the in-route, which was where Romo threw the ball, was supposed to be a defensive lineman, so Mario (Addison). So, Mario would have had to drop from on the line of scrimmage, 15 yards deep. And Romo knew that. Because Thomas (Davis) was the pressure guy. I was going to replace Thomas, Mario drops and they throw that route behind it.

"So Romo switched the play. We called it, called it 'Charger Dagger.' That was the offensive concept. TD switched it. He looked at me and he shook his head, like, we're changing, because he knows I'm blitzing.

"(Romo) hard counted. We showed our pressure. Thomas switched the play, so Thomas switched it from a pressure. We played cover two, and we were able to just kind of slip back in there. But Thomas, if you watch the play and you watch pre-snap, TD was the guy that was going crazy like, we're switching."

Stewart: "Alright! We'll follow your orders, coach."

Monday Night Football, 2008, Panthers vs. Bucs (Panthers win, 38-23)

Stewart: "That was the game where I realized that I was going to be alright. Me and DeAngelo (Williams) torched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a Monday night game, and it was a moment of realization that my college teammates were in the cafeteria back home watching me play Monday Night Football. Because I remember in college, Monday nights, we were watching Monday Night Football together as a team. And so, it was just that realization of, 'wow, I'm about to go out into this field and play a memorable game. And we torched the Buccaneers. I stiff armed Ronde Barber to the grid iron and that felt good."

RB Jonathan Stewart

2015 NFC Divisional Round vs. Seattle Seahawks

Kuechly: "Stew, you remember the first play of that playoff game? What did you do on the first play of that playoff game? At home, first play, we got the ball, and what?

Stewart: "It was 55 stutter."

Kuechly: "And how many yards did you get?"

Stewart: "Probably like 60. I got ran down though by Richard Sherman…but I will say that I was running on a broken foot."

Kuechly: "You were running on a broken foot. But you got that game started off really well."

Stewart: "Well, I felt good. It always feels good to be a difference in a game like that. I came off of a three-week, I think it was three weeks, four weeks. So I broke my foot and rehabbed, and I was like, I'm going to be ready for game one in the playoffs. And so I was ready."

Locker room memories

Kuechly: "You almost broke my face my rookie year. Do you remember that? Do you remember that? We were practicing fan fest in the stadium. I go to tackle you. You're running into the end zone; there's a red zone drill. You're running into the end zone and your back flap—"

Stewart: "Oh, I do remember that."

Kuechly: "Your Oregon Duck back flap was flapping, and I went to hit you, and the angle I came in, your back flap, came into my helmet and cut my face, and I was bleeding. And I remember walking into the locker room, and I had my practice jersey on, and they spelled my name wrong, and you said, 'They can't even spell your name right.' It was 'ley' instead of 'ly.' My face was bleeding; I just got embarrassed. My name was spelled incorrectly, and it was all because of you."

Stewart: "Welcome to the NFL. I'm sorry that you had a Hall of Fame career.

Kuechly: "It brought toughness to me early in my career."

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