CHARLOTTE – Luke Kuechly loves his job. He wants to take every rep, make every tackle, watch every last second of film. It's part of what makes him great. "I want to play as much as I can because that's what I love to do," Kuechly said.
But when the All-Pro linebacker suffered a concussion in the season opener at Jacksonville, all of that was pushed away. Kuechly needed to focus on taking the time to get healthy and follow the concussion protocol.
"It's tough when you want to go out there and you are sitting in here and all the guys come in, they're all sweaty and they had a good practice," Kuechly said. "They are all joking around about what happened at practice. It's like you're in timeout. You can't go out and play with your friends."
Kuechly's wait is over.
After missing the last three games, Kuechly returned to action Tuesday for his first practice since the injury.
"I was sweating out there with the guys for the first time in a while," Kuechly said, "and that's a good feeling."
Head coach Ron Rivera was impressed with what he saw from Kuechly, who quickly jumped back into his rightful place in the heart of Carolina's defense.
"He picked up right where he left off – communicating and running around all over the place doing all the things typical of Luke," Rivera said. "It was great to have him out there. It was a long process, but the process was what it needed to be."
The process was challenging for Kuechly, who said he had never had a concussion before and had never previously missed a game in his NFL career. In fact, Kuechly said the last time he even missed a practice was as a freshman in high school.
"I was itching to get back that whole time," said Kuechly. "Sometimes, this stuff takes time.
"You can't tape it up, you can't suck it up," he added. "It's one of those things that you just have to wait for it to go away. That was probably the most difficult part."
Difficult, yes. But Kuechly knew he wasn't quite right after absorbing an awkward hit from Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon.
"I knew there was something wrong," Kuechly recalled. "I hit him square. I thought he was going to go one way and he went the other way. Stuff happens quick."
Eventually, the headaches subsided and Kuechly passed the examination with an independent doctor.
"I'm ready to rock," he said. "Everything is back to full speed."
The Panthers plan to have Kuechly on a snap count in his return to game action against the Seattle Seahawks. A.J. Klein, who filled in during Kuechly's absence, has proven he can handle added responsibility at the middle linebacker position.
"I think A.J. deserves a lot of credit," Kuechly said. "It's a team in every sense of the word. No matter who is in, we don't miss a beat.
"When people are in the game, they step up and make something happen."
That's what you can expect to see from Kuechly as he tries to help Carolina improve to 5-0 on Sunday.
"Whenever I am in, I am going to do my best. Whatever it may be. Hopefully, it's a lot. I'm going to do what I can," Kuechly said. "We're excited to keep things going."
A look at Luke Kuechly's career with the Carolina Panthers in photos.