New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton loves him some Luke Kuechly.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Kuechly, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is known for his ability to ferret out opponent tendencies. Payton said Thursday Kuechly is comparable to former Saints great Jonathan Vilma: A former Defensive Rookie of the Year and three-time Pro Bowler in that team’s Hall of Fame.
"You can see it in his communication. Those are the same traits you saw when Vilma was here," Payton said Thursday morning in a conference call with New Orleans media.
"You break the huddle, and right away (Kuechly’s) eyes are focused where they need to be: Strength, call, alignment. Immediately, if he’s got any indication…you just see this awareness as to what might be happening.
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"(It’s about) formation, play-recognition. Every time they’re in strong right slot (for instance), it’s this, this or this. It’s not everything. It’s the process of deduction: ‘This can only be,’ and he does that very well."
Payton got a question Thursday morning implying the 11-5 Panthers have been inconsistent. The Saints finished with the same record, winning the NFC South because they swept the two regular-season match-ups with Carolina.
"They just won 11. I think, despite injury, they’ve played really well," Payton replied. "They beat the Patriots on the road. It’s the NFL; I’d have a hard time calling them inconsistent. Early in the season, we struggled (a 0-2 start). Part of it is injury; losing a couple of key players.”
Payton said any pimples on the Panthers season can be explained by key injuries, such as missing Greg Olsen, Ryan Kalil or Trai Turner for various stints.
"When you study this team the last two months," Payton said of the sample his staff has scouted most closely, "they’ve done a really good job of weathering the injury bugs."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell