With a sling no longer on his left arm, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was free to cut a red ribbon and throw his arm around servicemen and women for pictures Wednesday afternoon.
Kuechly, who’s still recovering from offseason surgery on a partially torn labrum in his shoulder, was the face of the Panthers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport as computer manufacturer Lenovo gave the USO of North Carolina a $25,000 technology donation.
“It’s cool because we play a game and (military men and women) are the reason we are able to play it,” said Kuechly, whose cousin and brother are in the military.
In one of his first interviews since the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver in early February, Kuechly described in detail the injury he played with throughout the postseason.
He said the shoulder “got banged” around during the season, but the final straw was in the Week 17 win against Tampa Bay to end the regular season.
Kuechly, a three-time All-Pro linebacker, wore a black harness at practice and in games during the postseason. It connected to his shoulder pads near the middle of his chest and extended to just below his shoulder to keep it in place.
“I don’t think it completely popped out, but it was in a position where it was compromising and didn’t need to be,” said Kuechly, who had 29 tackles, two interceptions and two touchdowns in the three postseason games. “I don’t think it came all the way out or slid around or something. Once it was back in I was good to go.
“I didn’t really have any issues with my shoulder (during the Super Bowl).”
Kuechly is about seven weeks separated from the surgery, and he’s been without a sling for almost three weeks. But he won’t be active on the practice field with teammates when the Panthers begin workouts in late May.
Guided by athletic trainers Ryan Vermillion and Mark Shermansky, Carolina has a plan for Kuechly that will ease him into contact on the field. Kuechly said he’s taking it day-by-day, but it’s unlikely he’ll see much action until training camp in late July and early August.
“Obviously it’s not going to be a full plate in the spring like it usually is,” Kuechly said. “I’m sure some things will be dialed back. I’m trying to take it one week at a time and when OTAs (organized team activities) come around we’ll see what’s going on.”
Kuechly admitted his upper-body strength isn’t where it should be, but he’s confident he’ll have time in June and July to return to full strength before the preseason begins.
Meantime, he treated dozens of military members and their families to autographed gear and pictures in the USO suite at the airport.
He helped answer trivia questions during a giveaway, helped raffle off other items and posed for pictures with anyone who wanted one.
When the wife of a deployed staff sergeant asked for a picture, Kuechly said, “Let’s do it.” Then he wrote a personalized note for the woman to give to her husband for when he returns home.