It might sound funny coming from a player with the two highest, single-season tackle totals in team history, but Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly says he’s looking forward to working on his tackling Friday against Buffalo.
Kuechly, the Pro Bowler and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, said the exhibition opener will give him a chance to tackle somebody for the first time in seven months.
“That’s what’s good about these games, you don’t get to tackle a whole lot during camp,” Kuechly said Wednesday. “And you think about the last time you really tackled somebody was January, that San Fran game. I’m trying to do my best right now to make sure I’m in good position during practice.”
Since the playoff loss to San Francisco, Kuechly has played in the Pro Bowl and has gone paddleboarding in southern California with Panthers center Ryan Kalil.
Kuechly led all tacklers at the Pro Bowl with 12 stops but seemed to suggest it was a different intensity level. During the first half in Honolulu, Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert barreled into Kuechly and knocked him backward on a 7-yard run.
But Kuechly enjoyed a little Pro Bowl payback last weekend when he drilled Tolbert at the goal-line during a training camp scrimmage.
So if that wasn’t a tackle, what was it?
“A collision, that’s what that was,” Kuechly said, smiling.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the plan for Newton’s participation Wednesday was always the plan, and any effects from Tuesday’s practice had no bearing on limiting Newton in team drills.
Newton, who had offseason ankle surgery, didn’t participate in team drills until nearly an hour and a half into practice. He went 8-for-10 on the day, with his two incompletions being balls grounded behind the line.
“As we go through things, we have mapped things out that we have to do with him and this is part of it,” Rivera said.
“He looks good. He really does. He’s moving around well, he’s making good decisions he’s delivering throws.”
Backup quarterback Derek Anderson played with the first-team offense during 9-on-7 and early team drills. Newton worked on his footwork with quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey, offensive coordinator Mike Shula and tight end Greg Olsen on the other side of the field.
Rivera said he won’t know until Thursday how much, if any, Newton will play against the Bills on Friday night. If Newton does play, he won’t play more than two series, and most of it will be handoffs.
Johnson has been sidelined with a hamstring issue, and Rivera won’t push Johnson in the exhibition. Frank Alexander or Mario Addison would start in his place.
Running back Jonathan Stewart continues to sit out of camp with a hamstring injury. There’s still no concrete timeline on his return, but Rivera expects him to play during the preseason.
“The one thing you don’t want to do, especially at the running back position, is put a guy who hasn’t gotten any real live stuff out there,” Rivera said. “Ideally you’d like to put him in a game and see where he is.”
Nate Chandler (knee), Kenjon Barner (legs), Wes Horton (groin) and Tavarres King (legs) returned to practice Wednesday. Roman Harper (toe), Craig Roh (ankle) and Tre Boston (groin) remained out.
• King is the unofficial camp leader in one-handed receptions. After getting loose down the sideline on a go route, King pulled down a Joe Webb pass with one hand when it appeared he could have gotten both hands on the ball.
• Punt returners Antoine Cason, Barner and Philly Brown had no drops when they were catching balls shot out of a JUGS machine. But when Brad Nortman started booming some punts, Brown promptly had one bounce off his chest.
• Kelvin Benjamin wasn’t targeted in team drills for the first time all camp. Rivera said part of that had to do with what the coordinators wanted to accomplish during practice.
• Josh Norman had good deep coverage on Toney Clemons during team drills and forced Matt Blanchard to go elsewhere for a pass.
• Carrington Byndom picked off a Webb pass intended for Brenton Bersin in the back of the end zone.
• Tight end Brandon Williams has improved at route-running and catching, but he needs to turn upfield immediately rather than going backward before going north.
• Richie Brockel gave Anthony Morales a shove after the two were tangled up and fell on special teams drills. Mike Tolbert broke it up.
• Cason had an easy interception on Derek Anderson on a pass too long for Jerricho Cotchery.
• Melvin White had nice coverage on Benjamin during one-on-ones. Newton had to throw it high for Benjamin to have a chance in coverage, and he could only get one hand on it.
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