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Frankie Luvu: Doing more, giving more, and becoming more

Vonn Bell, Frankie Luvu

CHARLOTTE — There are things about Frankie Luvu this year that are different that are easy to see.

The place he stands, for one, after a new coaching staff made him an inside linebacker. The C on his chest after he was named a captain in the wake of the season-ending injury to Shaq Thompson. The green dot on the back of his helmet which signifies that he has an earpiece to get playcalls from the coaches, which he has to relay to his teammates inside those frantic 40-second windows between snaps.

Those things are important, incredibly important, tangible signs of trust.

But there are things about Frankie Luvu that most people don't see that make him different as well, and are even more powerful signals in the difference in the 27-year-old this season.

Frankie Luvu

Tuesday is the players' day off in the NFL, the one day when they're not recovering from the previous day's car crash of a game or preparing for the next one in meetings and on the practice field. Tuesdays are sacred.

But this Tuesday afternoon, Luvu poured out of a meeting room in Bank of America Stadium along with Thompson and safeties Vonn Bell and Xavier Woods. The two captains and the two veteran safeties were watching film together on their day off, taking the extra steps you don't have to take but which can make a big difference.

"We watch a film, man," Luvu said. "You know, it's not enough to just come on Wednesday and re-watch film. It's going to take us to where this team can go, as far as watching film, getting that extra film, getting that extra look in, and getting the body right.

"But as far as us as leaders, what we've got to do moving forward is just doing more and that's what we've been talking about as a team doing more, giving more. And that's just what we're all trying to do."

Luvu said he's been checking in on Tuesdays for the last three weeks or so to get the extra work. Sometimes, it's just him and Thompson. They're also at the stadium getting rehab and recovery, Thompson from his broken ankle and Luvu from the painful hip pointer that keeps him perpetually on the injury report and in a red jersey for practice. Bell and Woods too, from their respective injuries which cost them game time and threw a major kink in the defense. But they could probably come in in the morning, do the rehab and split, and have their one day to themselves. But long after lunch, they were still hanging around, doing that extra work that nobody sees.

That matters.

Bell, who was brought here this season because he's got that old-head mentality the Panthers needed, just grinned when asked about the supplemental work the leaders were doing.

"Always," he said. "That's how I was taught coming into the league. That's what you signed up for, right?"

Bell laughs, knowing that for some players, it's the opposite, and being in the office doing extra work on their day off is the last thing on their minds.

"So it's a matter of what kind of player you want to be?" he said, cocking an eyebrow, asking and answering his own question.

The 28-year-old Woods also has that bearing beyond his years, which is part of the reason the Panthers made him a priority last year in free agency, agreeing to terms with him on the first day of the negotiating period.

He said that because coaches are still upstairs putting game plans together, it's not a scheme-specific session but one that is more of an overview of the next opponent and player tendencies. It's a session where those who have seen can see the little things, the finer points that could make a difference on Sunday.

It's not something you have to do, he said, but it is something that certainly helps.

"Just extra work," Woods said with a shrug, making it sound simple but knowing not everyone does it.

It's the kind of thing leaders do.

Woods pointed out that Luvu was already a leader around this place based on his play. He was always an energy guy, running around with his hair on fire on special teams and making spot appearances on defense. Last year, in his first season as a full-time defensive player — going from 249 snaps the year before to 940, effectively 10 or 11 extra full games of football beyond what he played previously — his other stats exploded as well. Luvu set new single-season career highs in tackles (111), tackles for loss (19), and sacks (7.0). The tackles for loss were the second-most in franchise history in a single season.

And playing is important, the obvious thing they're here for. Adding the play-calling and wearing that green dot to it took the demands to another level.

Frank Luvu, Xavier Woods

"He's really been in that role as a leader around here," Woods said. "So him having to step into it, it really wasn't a big deal for him in his game. We all know, even from last year, what a heck of a season he had last year. So I want to say it wasn't a big ordeal for him."

But it is unquestionably different, the difference between being a guided missile and an air-traffic controller. In those seconds between snaps, Luvu's getting the defensive call in from defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and spreading the word. As backup quarterback Andy Dalton noted, defensive calls are usually shorter than the sometimes excessively syllabic offensive calls, but they include more individual player position points. So, while he's catching his own breath, Luvu's telling the guys around him where to be and what to look for and how to adjust.

"I mean, when you don't have it, you just get the call, and then you can just focus on your job or whatnot," Woods said. "But once you have that green dot, this is different. You've got to get the guys ready. I mean, coach is talking to you. He's not just saying the call; he's saying, hey, we got to make this adjustment. Hey, make sure you tell these guys to do this. So it's a lot more than just telling the guys the call and getting the call."

Bell, who is the closer-to-the-line-of-scrimmage safety, has also worn one, so he knows the demands of being responsible for the 10 guys out there on the field with you. And he said Luvu's adapting quickly and well to the new duties. He noted that there's no time for repeating things.

"You tell the guys to get tight; you say it one time so you can get ready to play your game," Bell said. "But it takes a lot of responsibility because you got another call, but you've got to know what you got to do with that side of the ball.

"You go out to get guys lined up, so it's hat's off to him, and that's how guys look at him, same as the coaches. They look at him as a leader to be able to handle that."

Bell said that the nature of playing defense (especially at home, when the crowd is louder) puts a premium on communication but also preparation.

"When everybody's in their book, and you hear a certain call, you should already know it," he said with a grin.

Implicit in that statement is the reality that some players are not always the same number of chapters deep, meaning Luvu is responsible for getting everyone on the same page. That's part of the reason he's putting in extra time now, as he develops from an instant-impact sub to a reliable defensive playmaker to something more.

It's what Thompson has done for this defense for years, but without him on the field, it's something Luvu has to take on.

"Shaq's definitely always eager to watch film with me," Luvu said. "I'm always like, I want to pick his mind on like certain things and how can I better my game off of what he sees and also that set of eyes in the back."

But he's more than eyes, as that green dot means he also has to be the brain and the mouth for the defensive on the field. It's not something he takes lightly, but it is a role he accepts.

"I'm all in, I'm ready for it, I'm made for this," Luvu said. "What can I say, man? This is my calling. And taking that green dot, and having that C on my chest, it comes with high responsibilities and, with that coming, I can take that."

It's the kind of thing linebackers naturally do; they're the guys who set the tone as much as the defense. The Panthers have always been fortunate to have those guys, from Sam Mills to Dan Morgan to Jon Beason, to Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. And with Kuechly and Davis around here so often, they're rubbing off on Luvu in subtle ways.

"Like when I see Luke on film, it's like, man, he just got so much energy, him and TD, and I was like, man, when's the last time we had that going on?" Luvu said. "So for me as a player, man, I just kind of take that, and consider it my game and just put that in. Because it's very contagious as far as us as a defense. Obviously, our offense might not click here and there, but every time we're on that field, it's just another opportunity for us to get a play or, change the field position, or just creating big plays on defense.

"So they definitely play a huge role where I'm at, Luke and TD and Shaq."

Luke Kuechly, Frankie Luvu

And as he continues to evolve as a player, it's becoming clear that Luvu's on the verge of becoming one of those guys in other ways as well.

When he was asked about giving Bryce Young a game ball Sunday, he casually mentioned it was something he and Kuechly had talked about weeks before. When Davis is around the practice field, which is often, he gravitates to Luvu. Last week (when it was still warm), Davis was wearing shorts and started sprinting to the ball alongside Luvu as they headed out.

"Me and him were running on the field, and he's like, he's going to beat me to the ball. So he's still got some speed, I can say that," Luvu said. "Then I'm like, man, why do you keep doing this? He's like, 'Me and Luke used to do that, we used to run on the field, we used to take the field like another team's going to see that and be like, oh, this mother- won't stop.' And I took that to heart going into last week.

"Don't get me wrong. I was a little bit winded out there in that long series, but then those sprints on and off the field started from practice prepared me. And also, I wish I played with Luke and Thomas when they were here to see their type of energy. But I'm just blessed to have those guys mentoring me."

And that's the difference between an example and a role model. Luvu's not just emulating what guys like Kuechly and Davis have done on film; he's taking over some of that space they used to occupy in the locker room.

Now that he's the one calling plays, and he's the one putting in the extra time, it occurs to those around him that he's becoming one of those guys, the players who do more than just play at a high level.

And you're starting to see that in Frankie Luvu.

Frankie Luvu, Thomas Davis

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