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Carolina Panthers

Kuechly gets valuable lesson from Gross


SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- As far as résumés go, Luke Kuechly's was nearly flawless for a linebacker coming out of college.

The first-team All-American set an NCAA record for tackles per game and earned three national, individual awards for the defensive prowess he displayed during his final collegiate season.

He was tabbed an "NFL-ready" prospect. From an individual standpoint, he'd just about done it all.

Except for one thing, one area where he lacked experience.


"I hadn't done a whole lot of blitzing in college," Kuechly said.

That would be an understatement.

He posted just 2.5 sacks in three years and had zero in his final college season. Pass rushing just wasn't part of Kuechly's job description at Boston College. 

"They said, 'Luke, we're going to have you stay back in coverage,'" Kuechly recounted. "They used other guys to blitz. I just didn't come on the blitz much."

That's changed in his first NFL training camp with the Panthers.

"Yeah, I'm doing a lot more blitzing here," he said. "This scheme is a bit different. I'll be blitzing here, I'll be blitzing there."

Kuechly has excelled against the run and in pass coverage in his first camp, but for the first time in a while, his pass-rushing skills have been put to the test.

"I haven't done it a whole lot," Kuechly said, "but that doesn't mean I can't do it."

Eager to enhance that aspect of his game and admittedly short on experience, the rookie figured he might need some help. So, when the punt team units took the field during a practice session earlier this week, Kuechly sought out some advice.

The man he went to? Left tackle Jordan Gross.

"I asked him a couple questions," Kuechly explained. "I figured I might as well go ask Jordan, see if he has any quick tips or anything that he would recommend. He's been around for a while, so I thought he'd be a good person to ask."

It seems so simple. Why not pick the brain of the two-time Pro Bowler who is tasked with keeping linebackers and defensive ends away from his quarterback?

But Gross confessed he was a bit surprised when Kuechly approached him on the sideline with questions. Albeit, pleasantly surprised. 

"No, you don't see that from all rookies," Gross said. "It's pretty impressive for him to come up and initiate a conversation about something he wants to get better at."

So Gross offered up a short pass-rushing lesson. It included ways to confuse linemen and disrupt blocking assignments, and how to best approach speed or bull rushing.

At one point in their conversation, Gross physically demonstrated methods to beat linemen when they're in particular pass protection sets.

"He knows that I've gone against a lot of good players and I've learned what gives me trouble when linebackers are blitzing," Gross said. "I'm happy to share that information with him, because the better he does, the better we all do."

Kuechly stood quietly and listened, soaking in the valuable information. He'd only interrupt to ask another question.

Eventually, linebackers coach Warren Belin spotted Kuechly chatting with Gross. He walked closer to get within earshot of the conversation, then proudly gave a thumbs-up before leaving them to it.

"I saw Luke talking to Jordan," Belin said smiling. "He just wants to learn what he can look for from NFL tackles when he comes in on the pass rush. He's digging into his books. He's using his teammates, just to try to learn how he can get better."

"Jordan gave him some great tips," Belin added, "and Luke can put that in his memory bank and go with it."

But in Gross's view, there is a minor stipulation attached to those tips.

When the whistle blew for the resumption of team drills and the pass-rush lesson came to an end, the nine-year veteran tackle told Kuechly, "Don't do any of that stuff against me."

"I don't want him to make me look dumb," Gross explained. "He can use them on anybody else."

Kuechly has proven to be a respectful rookie, and Belin will be the first to tell you he's a good listener.

But Gross may well see his instructions used against him. In fact, he can expect it.

"Hey," Kuechly said, laughing, "you have to practice to get good at it, right?"

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