CHARLOTTE – Luke Kuechly isn't one to toot his own horn, as evidenced by the current whereabouts of his NFL Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
"It's back home in the box," Kuechly said.
Kuechly, however, isn't shy about praising others, as evidenced by his excitement over the defense the Panthers will field this fall. Kuechly has gotten to know Carolina's new defensive backs over the first week of offseason workouts, and he already knows what the defensive line can do in front of him and his fellow linebackers.
"It's been pieced together, but all the pieces are good pieces and I think they're going to work well with each other," Kuechly said of the Panthers' new-look secondary. "You look at the guys we've got back there – Roman Harper's been to the playoffs, been to the Pro Bowl. Thomas DeCoud's been the playoffs, Pro Bowl. Melvin (White) played great last year. Antoine Cason is going to come in and help him out. Charles Godfrey will be back, a guy that's been very consistent, and he's going to work hard and knows what's going on."
While the Panthers added Harper and DeCoud at safety and Cason at cornerback after safety Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn left via free agency, every contributor on what was a dominant defensive line is set to return after the Panthers franchised defensive end Greg Hardy in February and re-signed defensive tackle Colin Cole three weeks ago.
The line anchored a defensive unit that led the NFL in 2013 with 60 sacks and ranked second in points and yards allowed.
"I was very happy to see all those guys came back," Kuechly said. "We saw how good they can be last year. Those guys played great. Colin (Cole) and Dwan (Edwards) taught the younger guys Kawann (Short) and Star (Lotulelei), and obviously our guys on the edges are great, too.
"They're all healthy, and it's a group of guys that doesn't complain, that doesn't worry about what their stats are, what they're doing, how they're lined up. They just want to go out and play."
While Kuechly is happy about the defensive groups in front of him and behind him even with the NFL Draft still to come, he's using the voluntary offseason workout program to work on parts of his own game that the perfectionist in him isn't as happy with.
"I just think that everybody's goal is to get better, and that's my goal," Kuechly said. "My personal goals are really to just get better at pass rush, working on some moves, working on counter-moves that will allow me to do some more things. I think last year I got stuck in a couple spots in pass rush and it led to big plays because they were counting on me getting there and I wasn't quite able to.
"Same thing with pass coverage. I was talking to Thomas (Davis) about it a little bit today and he said it's just you've got to be confident in what you're doing. The more reps I get at it, the more confident I'll get, the better I'll feel about it."
Kuechly has already spent time this offseason improving off the field. With his parents' home in Cincinnati as home base, Kuechly has taken online courses that have him in position to possibly earn his degree from Boston College before training camp.
He's also studying for the upcoming season, from working on what he perceives to be his weaknesses to preparing for what awaits from future opponents. The Panthers are coming off a 12-4 season and a division title, but no team has repeated as NFC South champions since the division debuted in 2002.
"Our division is coming back strong," Kuechly said. "You look at Atlanta, they get Julio Jones back, that's a big piece for them. New Orleans is going to be solid, and Tampa put some pieces together and they get Doug Martin back.
"It will be a challenge, but that's what we love about this game. Everything is difficult. If it was easy, everybody would win. I think we've got the good pieces here to make a run."