The last time Luke Kuechly was in Bank of America Stadium his name wasnt even spelled correctly.
His blue practice jersey read KUECHLEY last week at Fan Fest, and the even-keeled rookie didnt seem to mind.
But if he continues to impress like he did Saturday against the Texans in the Panthers first preseason game, his name will become a correctly spelled household name in the Carolinas.
Kuechly, starting at weakside linebacker, recorded four tackles and forced a fumble in his NFL debut that lasted just more than a quarter.
Luke came out and showed what hes capable of doing in terms of football plays, coach Ron Rivera said. He came off the sideline and said, Man that was fast. Once he got past that first series you saw what he was capable of.
Rivera named Kuechly the starter Friday after listing Thomas Davis (strained calf) and fellow linebacker Jon Beason (hamstring) as out for Saturdays game.
He lined up on the wrong side of middle linebacker Jason Phillips on the first play of the game. At Boston College, Kuechly anchored a no-huddle defense, so he got a little confused with his back to the offense.
For me it was fast. Thats the biggest thing I remember, he said. The first play of the game I lined up on the wrong side of the ball. It was a learning experience. The speed of the game is a lot faster, even in practice. Practice moves at a certain pace but even the tempo of the previous play is a lot quicker.
Kuechly, along with the rest of Carolinas defense, started slowly as Houstons starting quarterback Matt Schuab was surgical in his first drive. He went 3-for-5 for 52 yards, including a 22-yarder to tight end Owen Daniels, who beat Kuechly to make the grab.
It was a man coverage play and I was a free defender, and I probably didnt do the best job of reading the quarterbacks eyes, Kuechly said. I jumped the shorter route and should have stayed back and helped out on that deeper route.
The rookie made up for it two plays later when, with Houston threatening to score from 2 yards out, he stopped running back Ben Tate for no gain that forced a third down
Kuechlys most outstanding play came on the ensuing drive. Houston running back Arian Foster had a sure first down when the rookie popped the ball out of the former Pro Bowlers hand and cornerback Sherrod Martin recovered at midfield.
His four tackles were the most of any Carolina starter Saturday.