When you see a 346-pound man, how would you define that man in two words?
Let’s ask Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly this question, and ask it specifically about his new 346-pound teammate — defensive tackle Dontari Poe.
“Very nimble,” Kuechly offered.
That’s not what I was expecting, but Poe is unique. He’s not fat. He’s a 346-pound oak tree, except in this case the tree moves.
Kuechly expanded his theory, noting that Poe ran under five seconds at around that same weight in the 40-yard dash coming out of college in 2012 (4.89, to be exact).
“Dontari is big,” Kuechly said. “He takes up a lot of space. But he’s very nimble. … His agility is really good for a big guy. That’s why he’s been so successful, because he’s able to combine that rare size with the ability to move.”
Old-timers will remember William “Refrigerator” Perry, graced with one of the best nicknames ever in football and also nimble enough to be used occasionally as a running back. Poe has done a little of that too — he has actually thrown a touchdown pass and run for one as well in the NFL. Two touches, two touchdowns.
So have the Panthers given him any offensive plays to practice yet?
“Not yet,” he said. “But we’ll see.”
The Panthers signed Poe in the offseason to a three-year, $28 million contract after losing Star Lotulelei — who played a similar role — in the same 2018 free-agent market to Buffalo. The hope is that Poe will give the Panthers another player similar to Kawann Short, who has a great burst as an interior lineman and allows the Carolina linebackers to roam freely.
A man of few words
Few NFL players are bigger than Poe, who is a man more about actions than words. He answers most questions in a dozen words or less. For example:
Q. Do you ever face NFL offensive linemen larger than you?
A. I don’t know. I don’t really check weights and sizes too much.
Q. What are your personal goals this season?
A. Just play. Be consistent. Be focused. Be healthy.
Q. What do you think about the Panthers’ heavy rotational system at defensive line?
A. I’ll get used to it. It’s a good thing.
Poe, 27, is entering his seventh NFL season. He played five years for Kansas City and then a single year for Atlanta in 2017. He had options to go elsewhere this offseason. Why Carolina? This answer required a little more space-eating.
“I just like it,” Poe said. “I like the team, I like the defense. ... I think they’ve got a chance to win right now and that’s what I want to do.”
‘Everything we’ve hoped for’
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been impressed so far with the team’s biggest (in both literal and contractual terms) free-agent acquisition.
“Dontari Poe has been everything we’ve hoped for,” Rivera said. “He’s a big physical body, got great athletic ability. He’s explosive off the ball. ... He demands double teams and controls the line. ... So he’s been outstanding.”
The Panthers’ defensive line has long been a strength and should be once again this season. Julius Peppers is an ageless future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Mario Addison is a fine speed rusher, and they tied for the team lead with 11 sacks apiece last season coming off the edge. Short has been a Pro Bowler in the middle and is paid like one. Poe will join him there. The stable of reserves is deep.
Does this team have the talent to reach the Super Bowl?
“Definitely,” Poe said, and said nothing more.
“I mean, why not?” he said. “We’ve got all the pieces.”
If the Panthers do get there, Poe surely will be one of those pieces — pushing his way into the other teams’ backfields. But doing it, of course, in a very nimble way.