By Ted Fleming
Fresh off a career best 16-tackle performance against the Falcons, linebacker Luke Kuechly was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week by the National Football League. The 21-year-old rookie out of Boston College has a league high three games with at least 15 in a game and leads the NFL in tackles with 130.
According to the coaching staff’s weekly film review, he had 147 entering the Atlanta game and is within striking distance of the team’s all-time mark of 174 held by James Anderson which was set last week.
“If there’s a better defensive rookie in the league, I haven’t seen it,” said defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. Week in and week out, he’s number one or two on the tackle list for us, and he’s lining the defense up. The things he does for a rookie is very impressive. He’s got a bright, bright future. This organization is fortunate to have a player and a person like Luke Kuechly.”
Kuechly was instrumental in helping the Panthers shut out the Falcons in the first half of their second meeting last Sunday, something no other team has been able to do in either half of any game this season.
With three games remaining, the Panthers are just one player away from averaging an Injured Reserve entry for each NFL regular season week. After aggravating a groin injury in last Sunday’s win over Atlanta, safety Haruki Nakamura is the 16th man to see his season come to an end earlier than expected.
With the addition of the fifth year pro out of Cincinnati to the IR, the Panthers are two short of the franchise mark set two seasons ago. It was a hard decision for head coach Ron Rivera but knew it had to be done.
“I think that because it is so late (in the season), there was no way he would be back in four weeks,” he said. “You know if this happened in week two or three you might use that injured reserve where you can bring the guy back. But it is tough because Haruki has done a lot of nice things for us; he’s really picked it up. The low point for him was the first Atlanta game and the high point was the second Atlanta game. He did a lot of good things, he’s helped a lot of young players and he’ll be missed.”
That seems to be a regular refrain for Rivera as he is forced to dig further into a talent pool that had lost a lot of its depth. To take his spot on the 53-man roster the Panthers signed safety Anderson Russell off their practice squad.
Nakamura was just one player as there were many more to talk about like the laundry list of those who missed Wednesday practice because they were given the day off just to rest, like linebacker Thomas Davis, and those who were nicked up.
“I didn’t realize we had this many guys,” Rivera said. “Dwan [Edwards] is still dealing with the wrist injury, Jeff [Hangartner] with the sprained foot, he got it stepped on so we hope that will calm down, Brandon [LaFell with turf toe] actually did some work yesterday and wasn’t any worse so we’re pretty excited and optimistic, Louis [Murphy] was more precautionary because of his hamstring and we wanted to see him get some rest, Jonathan [Stewart] did a little more movement so we’re optimistic there.
“James Anderson is coming off the back that he had last week and the eye has gotten better, Jeff Byers actually practiced an awful lot, a little bit more than limited as did Charles Godfrey. It’s good to have [Godfrey] back on the field. He’s a football player.”
That was nine players, but by the end of the week when the Panthers take off for San Diego to play the Chargers the only one that could possibly be left behind is Stewart as he is still dealing with left and right ankle sprains.
“I think he took a step today but we’ll see,” said Rivera. “I mean a lot is how he reacts to things and see how he is in the morning.
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Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.