Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner: Just normal guys who like playing football

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CHARLOTTE – At the start of the 2019 campaign, only four players had recorded 100-plus tackles in eight consecutive seasons.

Linebacker Luke Kuechly added his name to the list a couple weeks ago.

So did Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is coming to town with the 10-3 Seahawks this Sunday.

Both Kuechly and Wagner entered the league in 2012 and both have had at least 100 stops every year since.

They quickly became the best off-the-ball linebackers in the NFL, with each fanbase passionately arguing for their guy to be known as the top dog.

Since 2012, Kuechly has compiled 1,062 tackles – the most in the league. It's no surprise Wagner is right behind him with 1,043.

"He's smart and really active," Kuechly said of Wagner. "He's got really good effort to the ball and he's super long. He keeps (blockers) away from him. And he's just got a really good understanding of the game.

"He's an awesome dude. If he was here, he'd fit in great. Just a normal guy who likes playing football."

Yeah, that sounds familiar.

Wagner is the current league-leader in tackles with 129, and Kuechly is seventh with 114. But overall, the Panthers' star has an edge on Wagner in the takeaway department. Kuechly's 26 total takeaways are most among linebackers since 2012.

"He's just a really, really hard worker," Wagner said of Kuechly this week. "A very, very intellectual linebacker. Makes a lot of plays, he's very talented. It's fun to watch, it's fun to watch him play on film.

"He's amazing player. Definitely a linebacker people can look to and then be inspired by."

Kuechly and Wagner got to know each other ahead of the 2012 NFL Draft when they trained together in Florida.

"We had the same mindset," Kuechly recalled.

Kuechly was on his way to becoming a household name at Boston College, earning first-team All-America honors three times and piling up the individual accolades (he won the Butkus Award, Lombardi Award, LOTT Impact Trophy and the Bronco Nagurski Trophy).

Wagner went to the only school that offered him – Utah State. He was a force for the Aggies and was named WAC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Kuechly cemented his first-round status with a stellar performance at the Scouting Combine, but Wagner wasn't able to put his training to use on that stage. He was unable to attend after coming down with pneumonia.

"The thing that hurt him coming out was he was sick and he couldn't go to the combine," Kuechly said. "He would have killed the combine. He would have interviewed great and he's super athletic. He would have done everything really well.

"But obviously it really didn't hurt him. It's worked out pretty well for him."

Seattle drafted Wagner with the 47th overall pick and it's proven to be one of their better selections.

Obviously the same is said about Carolina and Kuechly, who went ninth overall.

Now both are seasoned veterans, and they're still at the top of the game.

"They're both elite," said edge rusher Bruce Irvin, who spent the first four years of his career with Wagner in Seattle. "They both bring a lot to their team. Both leaders, both All-Pros, it's just which one you prefer.

"They are the top two linebackers in the league. You can't go wrong with either."

Carolina has played Seattle eight times since 2013. The Seahawks lead the all-time series 9-4.

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