Luke Kuechly May Replace Jon Beason At Middle Linebacker
Beason was sidelined for the entire 2011 season after a non-contact achilles tear in the first game of the year, but he was still expected to be the starting middle linebacker this season, with Kuechly manning the weak side linebacker position. However, after an impressive showing at OTAs and minicamp, Beason has conceded that it may be him making the move to the weak side. Beason seems open to the move, and has stated that he thinks the world of his new teammate, Kuechly.
I think this is more about Kuechly than it is about Beason. Beason has been a monster ever since he came into the league in 2007. He had made three straight Pro Bowls before being sidelined due to injury last season. He's an intimidating, charismatic maniac who runs fast and hits hard. Previous to last year, he started every single game in his four year career, averaging 104 tackles per season. After making a quick and full recovery from achilles surgery, the Panthers wouldn't replace this 27 year old beast with some scrub.
The Panthers must really expect great things from Kuechly. Middle linebacker is the heart and soul of the defense, and replacing a player like Jon Beason at that position says a lot about his replacement.
Kuechly was the ninth overall pick in this past year's draft and was very highly regarded coming out of Boston College. He only played three seasons at BC, leading the NCAA in both tackles and solo tackles for two straight years. He also had three interceptions in each of those two years.
Kuechly, unfortunately, doesn't have any sort of elite NFL size or athleticism. He's goes at 6'3'' 242 lbs, which is three inches taller, but only five pounds heavier than Jon Beason. He could use a good summer in the weight room to bulk up a little. He doesn't have great speed and is not great as a pass rusher, but all the intangibles are off the charts. He has an incredible nose for the ball, is extremely intelligent, gets back in pass coverage and can read the quarterback's eyes well, and is a leader with an intense passion for the game. Combine that with excellent consistent tackling and it sounds a heck of a lot like Brian Urlacher. If Kuechly can get closer to Urlacher's weight of 258, he very well may be able to have similar success as a pro.
Just a somewhat meaningless side note: Kuechly ran his 40-yard dash at the combine .01 second faster than Urlacher and they were both drafted ninth overall.
With Kuechly looking good, and Jon Beason and Thomas Davis (who tore his ACL after two starts last season) returning healthy, the Panthers should make huge strides defensively after ranking 27th in points and 28th in yards last year.