CHARLOTTE – When Christian McCaffrey arrived in Charlotte for his introductory press conference, Luke Kuechly was ready and waiting to welcome the eighth overall draft pick to the team.
Kuechly, along with center Ryan Kalil and safety Kurt Coleman, spent a couple hours over dinner getting to know the former Stanford running back and preparing him for life as a Panther.
"He's a good dude," Kuechly said of his first impression. "I think they consciously try to bring in guys who fit the locker room. He's a good dude, and I think he's a guy who is going to work really hard. Just talking with the coaches, they know he's a hard worker. He's going to come in and do everything he can to help us win."
Five years ago, Kuechly was the first-round draft pick eager to ingratiate himself with the organization that drafted him. Now he's a four-time Pro Bowler offering advice.
"He just kind of asked what he should do when he comes in, and we just told him, 'Work hard. Listen to the older guys, listen to the coaches.' I don't think they would have brought him in if he wasn't going to do that," Kuechly said. "He comes from a football family, so he understands what it's like. I think he's got a good base for that."
When the Panthers were evaluating McCaffrey, they couldn't help but draw comparisons to Kuechly. On draft night, the phrase, "he's got Luke's DNA" was mentioned on several occasions.
Upon hearing that flattering comment, Kuechly smiled sheepishly.
"Oh, no," Kuechly said with a laugh. "He's got great DNA."
At his intro presser, McCaffrey said: "If I'm not playing football, I'm preparing to play football. That's how I view my life." That sure sounds like something we'd hear from Kuechly.
But you'll never hear Kuechly talk about the success he's had without crediting others.
"I had Thomas Davis and Jon Beason here, and they showed me how to do it," Kuechly explained. "I understood early what it took to be successful. You try to maintain that through your career. But it's not like it's just me that works hard."
When McCaffrey joins the team's offseason program in June, the dynamic running back will get a chance to measure his skills against the best linebacker in football.
After hearing the rave reviews from rookie minicamp, Kuechly knows he'll have his hands full when the one-on-one drills begin and he gets matched up with No. 22.
"He's going to be a challenge," Kuechly said. "Hopefully they just let him run one simple route so I know what's coming."
Knowing what's coming and where it's coming from is half the battle against a versatile playmaker like McCaffrey. It's a challenge Kuechly is looking forward to on the practice field. Then on game days, he's glad McCaffrey will become the opposition's problem.
"I sat down and watched some highlights, and yeah, he's pretty doggone good," Kuechly said. "He's quick, he can run away from people, he can do a lot of different things.
"You have to identify where he is. The formation will somewhat dictate what he can do. He'll be one of those guys – and I don't want to put him in a box or anything – but kind of like Darren Sproles. Wherever he is, you better figure it out. Anywhere he gets the ball, he can score. I think Christian can bring that to us."