Klein: "Really special to be a captain"

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Team captains may not seem all that significant to some. Plenty of players willingly lead whether they're voted captain or not.

But when linebacker A.J. Klein got to his locker at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday and saw that "C" embroidered on his crisp, blue jersey, it meant something.

"Definitely special because it's an opportunity to represent your team," Klein said after recording eight tackles during Carolina's 37-23 victory over Tampa Bay. "I take that very seriously."

With captains Luke Kuechly and Charles Johnson sidelined, head coach Ron Rivera informed Klein that he was going to be a captain during the week of practice. Family and friends didn't know until they saw Klein trot out to midfield for the coin toss with Ryan Kalil, Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen and Cam Newton.

"It was something that was really special," Klein said. "An amazing opportunity to go out there with the rest of the captains. It's something I take a lot of pride in."

Klein was thrust into a prominent role when Luke Kuechly suffered a concussion late in the first half of the season opener. Klein had been competing for playing time at outside linebacker prior to Kuechly's injury, but when Kuechly went down, Klein stepped in at middle linebacker and has been the starter there ever since.

Additionally, the third-year linebacker has continued to play an important role on special teams. In Week 4, he played 100 percent of defensive snaps and 34 percent of special teams snaps.

"A.J. is playing his head off," Olsen said.

Klein's time as a captain and a starter will soon come to an end. Kuechly and Johnson will eventually return to fill out the six captain slots, and Kuechly will jump back into the middle linebacker position as the director of the defense.

"We all know Luke is Luke – he's the best linebacker in the NFL, and he brings a different dynamic to our defense when he's healthy," Klein said.

Still, the Panthers have gone undefeated without one of the best defensive players in the league. Trusted backups like Klein make that possible.

"As good as Luke is with everything that he does," Klein said, "I think the great thing about this team is that when somebody goes down, we have a lot of guys that can contribute to win.

"Guys are capitalizing on opportunities that they're getting."

Look no further than Klein.

View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Tampa Bay.

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