Dec 26, 2009; San Francisco, CA, USA; Boston College Eagles linebacker Luke Kuechly (40) tackles Southern California Trojans wide receiver Ronald Johnson (8) during the third quarter in the 2009 Emerald Bowl at AT

Beason to Play in the Middle, Kuechly the Weak Side

Ah, gotta love it.

Two days after I posted that Kuechly should play the MLB spot, the news hits on NFL.com that he will play on the weak side for now.

Oh, the blow to my pride. I’ll get over it. The “safe money” was on a rejuvenated Jon Beason back in the middle with LK on the weak side, but I don’t always play it safe. This time, the limb I knew I was going out on got sawed off. It happens.

Beason’s got the middle for the moment; LK will play the Will spot entering the mini-camps. My thinking was that LK would learn the NFL MLB spot and move there, making his transition from college much more straightforward. I also know that Beason, like LK, can play anywhere as he’s done before. That approach would have been the “easier” path to take and LK’s most “natural” fit is indeed the MLB. Again – look at his college career.

It’s actually a nice “problem” to have since Beason has several Pro Bowls on the mantle. I still think LK will eventually settle into the MLB spot someday. Beason’s huge salary likely had a hand in the decision-making process, and I didn’t take that into account.

He’s being paid $25 million in guaranteed money which is far more than Kuechly will see in his rookie contract. Rivera’s bosses have a lot of money tied up with Beason; therefore, it makes the decision a bit easier to justify along financial lines. It’s not that I am down on Beason, other than injuries. I’ve just been really enthused about what Kuechly can bring to the D.

Rivera’s sentiments were the same as mine – put the best football players on the field. He’s referring to this as “an experiment,” and things can and often do change before the start of the season, but LK is starting his career on the weak side. It’s a testament to his both to his versatility and the multiple issues surrounding Beason’s past.

Recall, he was arrested for assault in 2009 – before the Panthers gave him a huge contract. Other than last season and his injury, he hasn’t missed a start since joining the Panthers in 2007.

To be fair, 4-3 WILLs don’t rush the passer nearly as much as 3-4 WILLs do. Beason does have some injury history, but Thomas Davis’ is much worse. 3 ACL tears in 3 years is very consistent. Beason and LK are pretty much interchangeable parts, if LK performs like I expect him to.

It’s near-impossible to get inside the heads of coaches and you just go on what you know, so I figured Rivera wants a tackler like LK to do it.

Coaches often like to bring in key personnel of their own and Rivera being a former linebacker has intimate knowledge of the positions in particular.

I think what’s happening is Rivera’s hedging his bets. He knows he simply cannot count on Thomas Davis to be healthy. Beason is a top-five MLB when he’s healthy, and he doesn’t have quite the horrid injury track record that Davis has, but he’s had his own troubles nonetheless.

Since Davis is the more fragile of the two, on one hand it makes sense to insert LK at his spot. I GET IT. It means Davis will see the field less as a top reserve, thus reducing the weekly tear on his body. If he goes down, LK is still the starter and the team loses depth, not starting firepower.

If Beason goes down, LK will shift over to the middle and Davis will be pushed back into the starting lineup on the weak side – exactly as my fellow Catcrave writer Phillip Gramling just posted a few days ago. Nice job on that, Phillip!

If LK does eventually move to MLB, he can certainly handle it and I suspect he’ll perform at the WILL position just fine. He could play the SAM position too, as he’s able to cover most of the league’s TEs with his 4.55 speed…although the TE position is evolving before our eyes and there are a handful out there that no LB can really cover.

TEs like Vernon Davis, Gronk, Jermaine Gresham and a few others. More appear to be on the way, but that’s usually the SAM’s problem.

Beason got hurt chasing one last season without any contact being involved.

For the moment, at least, Rivera seems sold on Beason in the middle after calling his early-season achilles tear “a dire injury.” This is actually good news. Thomas Davis had an ACL tear and Beason had an Achilles tendon tear. They are 2 completely different animals.

Both are injuries that take about a year, give or take, to completely heal.

An ACL affects the knee and lateral movement and agility, but once it’s 100% again, the injured player can usually come back and perform at the same level. The Pats’ WR Wes Welker blew his out in late 2010 and amazingly came back to start on opening day in 2011. Check his stats, and you would never know anything was up.

The bad news is nobody has ever recovered their form after 3 ACL injuries on the same knee, reported the Charlotte Observer on April 19.

Achilles tendon tears affect straight-line speed more than anything, and players that have had this type of injury often never quite recapture their top-end speed again. Beason is the guy on the D to watch in training camp and the pre-season other than LK and the 2 young CBs.

Now, put all that together and it tells me Jon Beason has made quite a recovery and is probably 90%+ aright now, and he IS the team’s best defender – unproven rookies aside. He’s also got youth on his side as he is only 28 years old and that was a plus in his column when it came to healing. If he were a 35 yr old, he probably wouldn’t be as far along as he appears to be in his recovery.

It’s hard to stop the other team when you’re juggling the lineup at linebacker like the Panthers were forced to do last season. In my own perfect world, LK would be in the middle and Beason on the outside, but I’m sure Rivera and his defensive staff have some tricks up their sleeves with such a dynamic pair of guys.

The first thing any NFL QB has to do when he goes to the line to take the snap is ID the “Mike” ‘backer. I’m pretty sure Rivera’s going to use the Beason/LK duo to disguise defenses and create a little uncertainty on the other side of the line. Uncertainty is a death knell to any squad, and in the NFL any advantage you can legally get, you grab.

Stay tuned, folks, this situation is far from over. Just be happy that Beason is able to play MLB after such a “dire” injury last September.

Forget what *I* would love to see – the Panthers’ run defense would be helped by either guy in the middle. With BOTH on the field? I’d be surprised if the Panthers don’t have an upper-tier run defense in 2012 if both guys can stay healthy and LK plays like he’s capable of.

I can just see the two swapping positions pre-snap with the enemy QB barking out who the MIKE is: “52!…Red 98! Red 98! Er…59! 59, that is! No…52 again! Dammit, ref, Timeout!!”

In the meantime, Kuechly was working out at both the middle and weak linebacker spots yesterday.

Rivera’s hedging and preparing, as any coach would. LK’s presence alone offers the LB corps stability they lacked last season. Is it just a coincidence Kuechly was issued Rivera’s old number, 59?

Time will tell.

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Tags: Carolina Panthers News Jon Beason Luke Kuechly

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