Ryan Kalil, the Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl center, knows the 2014 team is younger and less experienced than last season’s NFC South-winning squad.
But Kalil has been impressed with the makeup of the players, especially several of the rookies who showed an eagerness to work and learn the system during their first training camps. Kalil mentioned receiver Kelvin Benjamin and right guard Trai Turner, both of whom are expected to start Sunday against Tampa Bay, as two examples.
“It’s very rare to have a lot of young guys who can come in and get it right away. It usually takes a while for guys to understand what the routine is, how to be a professional, what that means. That transition from college to the pros, it’s a big deal,” Kalil said Tuesday before the Panthers’ annual kickoff luncheon at the Westin.
“And for us to have a lot of young guys who come in right away and get it – to see Kelvin work and Trai and all these guys – I think that’s extremely healthy for a football team. Kelvin’s working his butt off, and he’s asking questions and spending extra time.”
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Kalil said that attitude extends to the entire team.
“From a character standpoint, it’s a really good group,” he said. “It’s one of the better groups I’ve been around as far as talent and guys who really, really care.”
Tedford status up in the air: Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis told the luncheon crowd the toughest thing about Sunday’s matchup against the Bucs is not knowing what to expect from first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, the former Cal coach who has never called plays in the NFL.
There’s a chance Tedford might not be calling plays Sunday, either. He’s recovering from a medical procedure 10 days ago, and new Bucs coach Lovie Smith told reporters this week Tedford’s status is still uncertain.
Smith would not say who would be the play-caller if Tedford is out Sunday, further adding to the Panthers’ challenge of defensive game-planning.
“With us being the first team to go out and play them is going to make it that much more difficult,” Davis said. “We don’t really have film that we can watch and say, ‘OK, this is their tendencies. These are some of the things that they’re going to do.’ It makes it difficult.
“But as a defense we’re going to go out and do the things that we do, and we’re going to do it well.”
Thumbing it: Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly will continue to wear a protective brace and cast on his right thumb for at least a couple of more weeks, Kuechly said Tuesday before the luncheon. Kuechly hyperextended his thumb early in the exhibition against Kansas City on Aug. 17 but has been able to continue practicing.
He said the cast has not prevented him from catching passes, which he does after most practices on a JUGS machine.
“A couple more weeks and we’ll see how it is. Kind of go from there,” Kuechly said.
Kuechly said he did not tear any ligaments, although he still feels discomfort in the thumb.
“Just have to keep moving forward. (The pain) is still there a little bit,” he said. “Once I get the brace and the cast on it, it’s not bad.”