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Carolina Panthers Notebook

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Carolina Panthers’ linebacker Luke Kuechly improving in pass coverage

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/10/19/32/vIy8m.Em.138.jpeg|475
    MIKE MCCARN - AP
    Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) watches a pass thrown by Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson during the Sept. 8 game.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/10/19/32/nxNXU.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Uncredited - AP
    Marvin McNutt
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/10/19/32/x14R3.Em.138.jpeg|316
    Uncredited - AP
    Dwan Edwards

If there was a chink in Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly’s armor during his Rookie of the Year season in 2012, it was his pass coverage.

Kuechly, particularly early in the season, bit hard on play fakes and gave up easy completions.

During training camp in Spartanburg, Kuechly pointed to his coverage skills as the area he most wanted to improve in his second season. The early results have been encouraging.

Through four games, Kuechly has matched his interceptions total from last season with a pair of picks, including one last week at Arizona on a read that Panthers coach Ron Rivera said was “about as good as it gets.”

Despite a pass interference penalty during Buffalo’s game-winning drive in Week 2, Kuechly said he’s been pleased with his progress defending the pass.

“The more you see routes, the more you see different quarterbacks and the way they release the ball, the more familiar you can be,” Kuechly said Thursday. “Our coaches do a great job each week of detailing formations, routes and how to play routes in different coverages.”

Rivera said he thinks some of Kuechly’s coverage issues were overblown last year, when the first-round pick from Boston College was learning the nuances of the pro game.

“Now as he’s learned the game – not just seeing the game, but listening to the game – I think he’s really starting to make plays,” Rivera said.

Photo bomb: Shortly after he posed for Miami’s team photo Tuesday, Dolphins practice squad wideout Marvin McNutt learned the Panthers had signed him to their active roster. McNutt laughed when asked whether the Dolphins would black out his picture.

“I don’t know, I’m in it,” McNutt said. “I was part of the team that day for part of the day.”

McNutt, who took Armanti Edwards’ roster spot, is a big receiver with an impressive bio. The 6-foot-2, 216-pounder was moved from quarterback to receiver at Iowa and went on to become the school’s career receiving leader with 2,861 yards and 28 touchdowns.

McNutt, a sixth-round pick by Philadelphia last year, was active for the Eagles’ last four games but did not catch any passes. He was waiting for his chance in Miami – and smiling for the camera – when the Panthers called.

McNutt, a high school teammate of Panthers center Brian Folkerts in St. Louis, considers himself a physical receiver. “I’m not afraid to put my head anywhere, and I want to come down and help out (blocking) where I can,” he said.

Edwards update: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards’ quick start last season gave the Panthers’ pass rush an early boost. But Edwards has been sidelined for three weeks this year with a hamstring injury that has hurt his quickness.

Edwards hasn’t played since the Giants’ game in Week 3 and looks like he’ll be out again Sunday at Minnesota after missing the first two days of practice this week. The Panthers re-signed Edwards to a 2-year, $3.5 million deal after he recorded six sacks in 2012, the best total by a Panthers defensive tackle in 10 years.

But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the hamstring injury has robbed Edwards of his quickness.

“That’s probably his strength, and right now that’s not here,” Rivera said. “That’s the thing he’s really concerned with is not having that quick, first explosive step.”

With Edwards out, veteran Colin Cole has started the past two games. Cole has been bothered by a shoulder injury this week, although Rivera expects him to practice Friday.

Bring the noise: The Panthers have been practicing with artificial noise blaring from speakers this week to get ready for the din of the Metrodome. The Vikings are leaving their dome after this season and playing two years at the University of Minnesota’s stadium before moving into their new, indoor stadium in 2016.

Despite the Vikings’ 1-3 record, Rivera expects it to be noisy Sunday.

“Believe me, it’s pretty loud. It’s up a notch from most places,” he said. “The only one to me that’s really close is Seattle.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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