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Carolina Panthers place record-tying 3 on All-Pro first team

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/03/18/12/MowoM.Em.138.jpeg|492
    Uncredited - AP
    Ryan Kalil of the Carolina Panthers.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/03/18/12/TiZgL.Em.138.jpeg|500
    Uncredited - AP
    Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/03/18/12/1r9eq1.Em.138.jpeg|479
    Uncredited - AP
    Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/01/03/18/12/ZYxcw.Em.138.jpeg|500
    Uncredited - AP
    Mike Tolbert of the Carolina Panthers.

The Carolina Panthers placed three players – middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert – on the first team of the Associated Press All-Pro team Friday, matching the 1996 team for the most first-team selections in franchise history.

Defensive end Greg Hardy was named to the second team.

All four of the Panthers’ All-Pro choices also made the Pro Bowl.

“All four have worked very hard, have done a great job for us and deservedly so,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I am disappointed for a number of guys, though. We had some guys that played very well that deserve recognition as well. Unfortunately, not everybody can be.”

The last time the Panthers had four All-Pros was 2008, which was the last time they made the playoffs.

Quarterback Cam Newton was the only Pro Bowl invitee from the Panthers not named to the All-Pro team. Denver’s Peyton Manning was the only unanimous selection for the All-Pro team, so a second-team quarterback was not named.

Tolbert’s selection came four days after the death of his grandfather, Willie Walker. Tolbert left after Friday’s practice for the funeral in Atlanta.

“It’s a little bittersweet. I wish my grandfather could be here to see it,” Tolbert said. “He’s the only man that’s been in my life since the time I was born.”

Tolbert, Kuechly and Hardy are all first-time All-Pros. Tolbert’s 361 rushing yards, 184 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns helped him win the honor over second-team fullback Marcel Reece from Oakland.

The All-Pro nod is the second for Kalil, who was named to the second team in 2011 before sustaining a season-ending foot injury early in the 2012 season.

“It’s a huge honor. I think I get too much credit. I think there’s a lot of moving parts to an individual’s success in a game like football,” Kalil said. “I know I’m very fortunate to have a really good group of guys around me and I have an incredible coach in John Matsko. Give a lot of credit to him. We spent a lot of extra time (coming back from injury) together and he really helped me get back.”

Kuechly, in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, was joined by San Francisco’s NaVarro Bowman on the first team. Kuechly, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year who is fourth in the league in tackles, also deflected the praise.

“It’s an individual award, but it’s a representation of the team,” Kuechly said. “You’ve got four guys in front of you, the other linebackers, your coaches, the DBs (defensive backs) behind you, to make everything possible.”

Buffalo’s Mario Williams joined Hardy on the second-team All-Pro list at defensive end. Houston’s J.J. Watt and St. Louis’ Robert Quinn took first-team honors.

“They’re ones you can’t really argue with, can you?” said Hardy, who finished third in the league and tied a team record with 15 sacks.

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