SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly anticipated the question before reporters could ask on Tuesday, the first time he has addressed why he left practice six days ago with an injury that wasn’t identified.
“Well, I know what you guys are all going to ask,” the six-time Pro Bowler said. “My head’s good. I wasn’t in the [concussion] protocol. . . . I just got rolled up weird. They said, ‘All right, you’ve got sit out Luke.’ You’ve got to listen to what they say.
“I practiced the last few days. Everything is fine.”
Counting the day he left practice after being in what coach Ron Rivera called a “pileup,” Kuechly did not participate in team drills for three straight days. He still hasn’t participated in full contact drills, and won’t play in Thursday night’s preseason opener at Chicago.
Quarterback Cam Newton, coming off January shoulder surgery, also won’t play against the Bears as the Panthers try to protect their two biggest stars. Kyle Allen will start, followed by third-round draft pick Will Grier.
That Kuechly reassured his “head” was fine indicated that was a concern after he was hit from the side. That trainers did not check out his knees, arms or shoulder after the pileup also was an indication it was head related.
The 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the year missed games in 2015, ’16 and ’17 with concussion-like symptoms.
Kuechly still wears the Q-collar, an experimental device the inventor hopes will help prevent concussions, around his neck as he has since 2017.
Kuechly jokingly referred to being held out of practice a few days to being in “timeout.” Given the choice, he would like to have played a series or two against the Bears to get back in the groove of tackling.
“I do think you do need it,” Kuechly said. “We haven’t tackled since last year, right? There’s a big difference between running by guys and tagging off to actually tackling. You’ve got to do it like once or twice to get the feel for it.”
“I’m a guy I feel I need to practice during the week during the season. During the preseason I need to get a couple of tackles to make sure I remember how to play football.”
The Panthers goal with Kuechly and Newton is to have them ready for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Rams. Coach Ron Rivera said there’s a “premium” more than ever on keeping players healthy during the preseason.
“The thing I hope we look at in the next CBA is expanding the roster,” he said. “Now you get a good guy hurt, let’s say he one of your second tier players, but he’s your third linebacker or third safety. You get him hurt, you either settle with him or you IR him or keep him active till he’s healthy
“By doing that now you’ve cut another guy that can be a good player. If you allow your roster to be a little bigger now you may play your guys more in the preseason.”