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Notes: Panthers keep options open at middle LB


CHARLOTTE – Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly was steady and productive, recording a game-high 11 tackles in his first start in the middle with Jon Beason inactive.

Kuechly flourished at the MIKE spot in college, but had been the Panthers' weakside linebacker until Sunday's game against Seattle.

On Monday, head coach Ron Rivera was asked if he's tempted to keep Kuechly in the middle after the rookie's strong performance.

"Well, it's all part of the evaluation process," Rivera said. "The nice thing is we've got a full week to examine everything, look at all the things involved as we move forward."

Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott offered some additional insight regarding the middle linebacker situation.

"We've got a talented linebacking corps, and that's a good problem for us," McDermott said. "We've got to make sure we've got the right players in the right positions. Jon Beason is a heck of a player in his own right, and he's done a lot of good things for this team over the years.

"Ron and I will talk about it. We'll bring (linebackers) coach Warren Belin into the equation as well, and I'm sure (general manager) Marty (Hurney)." 

Kuechly's potential move to the middle would shift Beason, who has made 12 starts at weakside linebacker during his six-year career, to the outside. Kuechly said he has no preference where he plays.

"Nah," Kuechly said. "It doesn't really matter too much to me."

Rivera believes his linebackers are capable of playing at a high level regardless of where they are positioned in the defense.

"I really don't like to pigeonhole linebackers unless a guy can only do one thing," Rivera said. "I believe a linebacker is a linebacker – he should be able to play all three spots. In this case, I think our group of guys all have the ability to play different positions."

Beason, a three-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, expressed his desire to continue working in the middle when he returns to action.

"My preference is to stay in the middle," Beason said. "I've been playing the MIKE thus far, and I don't expect anything different."

INJURY UPDATE: Following Sunday's loss, Rivera reported that the team had no significant injuries and should be at full-strength for Week 7 against Dallas.

Center Ryan Kalil suffered a sprained foot, but Rivera expects him to be ready after the Panthers return from their bye week.

"The only real concern would be Ryan Kalil's foot if we were playing this coming Sunday, but he should be fine," Rivera said. "He sprained it a little bit. He most certainly will be ready once we start practice next week. We'll be smart with him."

The three starters who were inactive against Seattle – Beason (knee), cornerback Chris Gamble (shoulder) and guard Geoff Hangartner (knee) – are also expected to recover in time for the Panthers next contest.

"It's a 16-game season and sitting this one out (against Settle) was geared toward finishing strong," Beason explained.

Added Rivera: "They (Beason, Gamble and Hangartner) should be fine. We won't practice them this week."

NEBLETT OFFICIALLY RETURNS: Defensive tackle Andre Neblett has been added to the 53-man roster. To make room, the Panthers waived cornerback Ron Parker.

Neblett was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. By NFL rule, the Panthers had a one-week roster exemption for Neblett after the suspension was lifted last week.

The 6-foot, 310-pound defensive tackle played in 12 games last year and recorded 23 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

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