SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Despite being a top-10 pick in the most recent NFL draft, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly continually talks about being a rookie and needing to earn the respect of his fellow linebackers.
He already has it, according to linebacker and team leader Jon Beason.
"He kind of stays in his lane because he's a rookie, but we've opened the door and said, 'Hey, you're one of us,'" Beason said. "We don't treat him like a rookie, and we don't expect him to play like a rookie, either."
The relationship between Beason and Kuechly could have gone the other way. Beason has been the Panthers' starting middle linebacker for all but the first four games of his rookie season in 2007, while Kuechly played in the middle throughout his record-setting college career.
How they'll line up still is to be determined – Beason was in the middle for the first practice of training camp Saturday – but they're already on the same page.
"Jon Beason has been as professional about this as you can be," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. "With people being like, 'Oh, Luke's here to take your place,' Jon has embraced Luke.
"Jon understands that if Luke plays well, he plays well. If James Anderson plays well, he plays well. If Thomas Davis plays well, he plays well. It's a huge plus when you have guys who feel like that about their teammates."
Rivera praised Kuechly's attitude, his aptitude and his athleticism.
Beason took his admiration a step further.
"Right out of the gate, he's adjusted great. I've never seen a rookie linebacker come in and pick it up as fast as he has," Beason said. "He's a pro. He stays late, studies, asks a lot of questions. He's very athletic and has great ball skills.
"He's prototype – fits the bill. He's going to help our defense tremendously, and I like him, too. He's a good kid."