SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For the first time in seven months, linebacker Luke Kuechly will get to tackle someone other than a teammate when the Panthers open preseason play Friday night at the Buffalo Bills.
And no matter how little the first-team defense plays – one quarter is the tentative plan – rest assured that the NFL's leading tackler over the past three seasons will take somebody to the ground.
"This will be our first time playing against somebody else in a while," Kuechly said. "It will be fun to go to Buffalo to see some new faces and get some new competition. We're definitely looking forward to it."
A couple of days prior to the preseason kicking off, Kuechly tackled several topics.
On his hopes for the upcoming season as the Panthers seek a third consecutive NFC South title:
"I really want us to start fast. We played well in the first few games and then we had a hiccup – well, it was a little more than a hiccup. It lasted a few games, and that hurt us. Toward the end of the season we started to play better. We started to gel."
On how he approached the offseason:
"You're always trying to get better. You watch tape at the end of the season and say, 'Alright, how do I get better here?' You look back at what you did well but also what you have to improve."
On how that led to him working to improve his technique in pass coverage, specifically on finding his drop point:
"It's something that seems super-simple – get your spot and get set up – but it's hard to actually get yourself to do it. A lot of the credit goes to Al Holcomb, our linebackers coach, and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Sean) McDermott and the whole defensive staff for really stressing that aspect of the game. It's important to drop, get set, look at the quarterback and understand what's going on. You can't go back there and drift."
On what he's learned so far about rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson, the Panthers' first-round draft choice:
"Shaq can play. He's got good burst. He's got good hips. His athletic ability speaks for itself. What Shaq does really well – and our other rookies – if they're very willing to learn, they're very humble. They're good dudes. They're willing to help out anyway they can."
On the other rookie linebackers and the deep position group as a whole:
"We're very well-rounded. We've got big guys. We've got small guys. We've got guys that can run. We've got guys that can play at the point. (Jason) Trusnik is a bigger guy who does a great job with his hands. He's strong. He's powerful. He's stout. You've got Thomas (Davis), who can do everything, and A.J. (Klein), who plays all three positions. You've got David (Mayo) and Shaq and Brian (Blechen) – young guys that are learning – and A.J. and Ben (Jacobs) and Kevin (Reddick), who can play special teams and linebacker."
On how his experience as a rookie in 2012 shaped who he is now:
"When I look back at when I was a rookie, the thing that has been constant is older guys and coaches putting me in a position to be successful. When I first got here, Thomas and Jon Beason and Jordan Senn took me under their wing and showed me how to get things done. They made my transition a whole lot easier than maybe it would have been somewhere else. They were very welcoming and did everything they could to help make me successful. That has translated until now."