There’s no denying that the Carolina Panthers have an excellent linebacking corps. Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Chase Blackburn, AJ Klein…the list lgoes on and on. It may be the best LB situation in the league.
Yet, Panthers fans still aren’t satisfied! Crazy right? Well actually, not so much. Almost every single Carolina fan is calling for the sophomore AJ Klein to start over long-time veteran Chase Blackburn in 2014 at the weakside LB position.
Is it reasonable? Is it possible?
Of course, this is the freakin’ NFL. Where magic happens. If Johnny Manziel can be regarded as the 2nd coming of Jesus, all before even taking a snap in the NFL, surely anything is possible in this league. But WILL Klein get the start in 2014? That’s the question wanna-be GMs like myself are asking.
Chase Blackburn, a nine-year vet from the Meadowlands, was brought in by the former New York Giant Scouting Analyst, Dave Gettleman, himself as Jon Beason‘s soon-to-be replacement. Blackburn was serviceable for Carolina in 2013, provided solidity through 13 starts.
Did he blow away people with his numbers? No. In fact, if you looked up his stats, you would think that Manti T’eo’s girlfriend might as well have been out there on the field (Yes, I realize how out-played that joke is). The truth is, Blackburn was a large part of the front sevens’ success. He also provided veteran leadership that was desperately needed on special teams.
Then, you take a look at what AJ Klein did, and it’s easy to be captivated. When he was on the field, he was everywhere. It was like he and Kuechly were the Wonder Power Twins. They fist-bumped their imaginary rings, and Kuechly turned into a tornado while Klein transformed into a hurricane.
And a hurricane Klein truly was. He tackled everything in sight, and provided some great pressure in the backfield. Klein was given the opportunity to start two games after a Blackburn injury, and took full advantage.
His first start at the weakside was November 10th vs. the 49ers at Candlestick Park. Among an impressive overall performance, Klein recorded his first career sack, taking down Colin Kaepernick for a 14-yard loss. I like to imagine Kaepernick still quivering from that experience to this day. In layman’s terms, AJ Klein is a grown man. For a rookie, he certainly blew me and everyone else away.
All of that being said, what we as the fans and analysts think doesn’t really matter. Unless one of you guys are a secret informant for the coaching staff, it is entirely up to Ron Rivera and his staff. Luckily for Panthers fans, it seems to me that the coaching staff is swaying towards Klein starting.
Per Curry Shoff of the Charlotte Observer, LB coach Al Holcomb is just as impressed with Klein’s skill as we the onlookers.
“When (Klein) is out there taking reps at linebacker, he is taking more command,” said Holcomb. “It’s all about competition. I consider AJ a starter. He’s done a good job and he’s going to continue to earn the right to get playing time for us this season.”
It certainly seems that the coaching staff is willing to give Klein the start at weakside. I think he’ll be able to win the battle at training camp, and be successful next to Kuechly and Davis. I am glad, however, that Klein wasn’t given the start last season. Grooming was exactly what he needed, and sitting behind Kuechly and Blackburn was definitely the best decision.
What do you think, Cat Crave Nation? Will Klein get the start in his second year, or will Blackburn be suiting up at OLB when the team heads to Tampa Bay? Pound your vote in the poll below!