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Kuechly Spotted in Sling
Wednesday, March 2
David Newton of ESPN.com noted Kuechly was at a Charlotte Hornets game Tuesday with a sling on his left arm. Newton reported the linebacker will wear the sling for "three to four weeks" but added that Kuechly has "already been at the stadium working with trainers."
Rivera Comments on Kuechly's Recovery
Thursday, Feb. 25
Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Kuechly's shoulder surgery went well, and added the linebacker has started his recovery process.
Kuechly Could Miss OTAs and Minicamp
Tuesday, Feb. 16
According to Jonathan Jones and Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer, Kuechly's surgery is "to repair a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder."
Jones and Person called the linebacker's status for Carolina's OTAs and minicamp "uncertain" but did note he is expected to return before training camp in July.
Kuechly suffered the injury in Week 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played with a brace during Carolina's three playoff games, the last of which was its 24-10 Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos.
Kuechly Essential to Panthers' Defense
The fact Kuechly is expected back by training camp is welcome news for the Panthers. Any long-term setback to the linebacker would be a devastating blow for the defending NFC champions, although they continued winning when he missed three games early in the 2015 season with a concussion.
Kuechly is arguably the best linebacker in the league and has the recognition to prove it. He won the 2012 Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year. He is also a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro member.
The linebacker is a tackling machine against the run and boasts enough speed and versatility to hang with tight ends and running backs in coverage. He finished the 2015 season with 118 total tackles and four interceptions in 13 games.
While it would be nearly impossible to replicate Kuechly’s impact, A.J. Klein filled in admirably when the starter was out with his concussion and would likely be asked to do the same with any future injury. Rivera praised Klein for stepping in early in the season, per Max Henson of Panthers.com:
Rivera: "The defense rallied around A.J. (Klein). He did a heck of a job." Stepped in for Luke.— Max Henson (@PanthersMax) September 13, 2015
The 2015 campaign was Klein’s third season, but he played in a combined 45 games during that stretch and has some valuable experience under his belt. He is also versatile enough to play on the outside or inside, and the fact he already carried some of the defensive load for Kuechly in 2015 means Carolina has an insurance policy in place.
While the Panthers have a viable replacement for Kuechly, his presence is a major reason they finished 15-1 as the No. 1 seed in the NFC and eventually reached the Super Bowl. Carolina needs Kuechly leading the way again in 2016 if it hopes to challenge for the Lombardi Trophy after falling just short.