Coach: Rookie LB Kuechly Panthers' defensive QB


Coach: Rookie LB Kuechly Panthers' defensive QB

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Panthers' rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has grown accustomed to winning awards and with the way he's currently playing more could soon be on the way.

Kuechly leads the NFL with 131 tackles and is making a strong push for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Carolina's first-round draft pick had 16 tackles this past Sunday as the Panthers held the Falcons to 35 yards rushing in a 30-20 victory earning him NFC defensive player of the week honors.

The attention makes the humble 21-year-old a little uncomfortable, prompting him to deflect all of the credit to his defensive teammates.

But coaches and teammates alike see incredible potential in Kuechly.

Coach Ron Rivera said with Cam Newton and Kuechly the Panthers have ``their quarterbacks of the future on both sides of the ball. I think that speaks well for this team'' moving forward.

The Panthers (4-9) play at San Diego (5-8) on Sunday.

Kuechly's effort against Atlanta marked the third time this season he's had at least 15 tackles in a game - no other NFL player has more than one. He has an NFL-best eight games with at least 10 tackles.

He also has three forced fumbles, a sack and an interception.

But tackling is his forte, just as it was at Boston College when he led the nation in that category as a sophomore and junior, culminating in Kuechly winning the Bronko Nagurski Award last year as the nation's top college defensive player.

The Panthers drafted Kuechly ninth overall even though they already had a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker on the roster in Jon Beason. It's turned out to be a good move.

When Beason went down with a season-ending injury, Kuechly moved from the starting weak side linebacker to the middle, the same position he played for most of his career at Boston College.

He hasn't stopped hitting since.

``He's better suited as a middle linebacker,'' Rivera said. ``He's got a skill and he can play outside. He has a natural feel and natural leadership instinct for being in the middle and that's probably the best spot for him.''

Kuechly can't explain his knack for being a great tackler.

He said it's something he's always been able to do since he began playing football as an 8-year-old growing up in Cincinnati.

``People always ask me that, and I don't know,'' Kuechly said with a modest shrug of the shoulders. ``It's one of those things where you just know you have to get to the ball.''

Kuechly's early success doesn't surprise his teammates.

Panthers veteran receiver Steve Smith said the first two things he noticed about Kuechly when he joined the club were his unpretentious attitude and desire to get better.

Kuechly would walk up to Smith during or after practice and ask questions about certain plays or things he saw on the field, eager to learn the ins and outs of the NFL game.

He'd do the same with other veterans, too.

``Here's what you don't realize - he hasn't even cracked the surface of what he can become,'' said Smith, who isn't one to heap praise on other players, particularly rookies.

Smith said Kuechly reminds him of former Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan, who was a Pro Bowl player until concussions shortened his career.

``Luke is very smart and is always around the ball, somehow, someway,'' Smith said. ``When he gets a little bit more wisdom it's going to be amazing what he's going to.''

Defensive lineman Greg Hardy agrees.

``He just flows downhill,'' Hardy said. ``He plays smart and plays within the system but at the same time he has an aggressive, attacking style. He's fast. He's got the good feet and he knows how to get off the block. I think we've got us another Jon Beason on our hands.''

Kuechly's play has not gone unnoticed around the league.

Chargers coach Norv Turner said Kuechly jumped out at him on tape while preparing for Sunday's game against Carolina.

``The draft is hard and you go pick a guy that high that's what you're hoping to get,'' Turner said.

Turner said Kuechly doesn't appear to have a weakness in his game.

``He's instinctive. He's outstanding in the run defense. He's outstanding in the pass defense,'' Turner said. ``He's an outstanding football player who you can see is going to be one of the leaders of that group for a long time.''

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said Kuechly has ``a ton of energy'' and a ``high football IQ.''

``He has exceptional instincts the way he reacts, and he reminds me of a veteran watching him on film,'' Gates said.

Rivera said Kuechly's natural instincts are so good the coaching staff has had to be careful not to over-coach him. Basically, if it's not broken don't fix it.

``If there's a better defensive rookie in the league, I haven't seen it,'' Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. ``Week in and week out, he's number one or two on the tackle list for us, and he's lining the defense up. The things he does for a rookie are very impressive. He's got a bright, bright future.''

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In a stunner, Barry Trotz steps down two weeks after leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup


In a stunner, Barry Trotz steps down two weeks after leading the Capitals to the Stanley Cup

Less than two weeks after Barry Trotz helped deliver the first Stanley Cup in Caps’ history, the veteran head coach has chosen to resign in a decision that stunned the hockey world Monday afternoon.

Under the terms of the four-year contract Trotz signed in 2014, winning the Cup at any point during the duration of the deal triggered a two-year extension. But with coaches’ contracts having exploded in value in recent years, Trotz’s representatives sought to negotiate a new extension for a bigger salary and a longer term.

The sides attempted to hammer out an agreement in recent days that would appease both the team and the coach but failed, leading to Trotz’s decision to step down.

Shortly after the team announced that Trotz would resign, the coach released the following statement via his agent, Gil Scott:

"After careful consideration and consultation with my family, I am officially announcing my resignation as Head Coach of the Washington Capitals. When I came to Washington four years ago we had one goal in mind and that was to bring the Stanley Cup to the nation’s capital.”

“We had an incredible run this season culminating with our players and staff achieving our goal and sharing the excitement with our fans.  I would like to thank Mr. Leonsis, Dick Patrick and Brian MacLellan for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great organization.  I would also like to thank our players and staff who worked tirelessly every day to achieve our success.”

The Caps released a statement of their own, expressing disappointment in Trotz’s decision to talk away while also thanking him for his contributions.

“Barry Trotz informed the organization today of his decision to resign as head coach of the Washington Capitals,” the statement read. “We are obviously disappointed by Barry’s decision, but would like to thank Barry for all his efforts the past four years and for helping bring the Stanley Cup to Washington. Barry is a man of high character and integrity and we are grateful for his leadership and for all that he has done for our franchise.”

Monday’s announcement was as much of a surprise as the Caps’ unexpected breakthrough in the playoffs, particularly given Trotz’s recent public comments. As recently as last week, in fact, he indicated that he was interested in staying.

The team’s plans to fill its suddenly vacant head coaching position were not immediately known, though its possible associate head coach Todd Reirden will receive serious consideration.

Trotz’s next move is also unclear. He’s technically under contract because of the two-year extension triggered earlier this month, but the Caps will grant permission to other teams to talk to him as though he’s a free agent.

GM Brian MacLellan will speak to reporters at 6 p.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.


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Caps announce preseason schedule to kick off a busy week


Caps announce preseason schedule to kick off a busy week

The Stanley Cup champion Caps will open their seven-game exhibition schedule on Sept. 16 season against the Bruins at TD Garden, the team announced.  

Washington will face Boston, Carolina and St. Louis twice apiece—once on the road, once at home—and the 

Canadiens one time. The game against the Habs will be played at Videotron Arena in Quebec City.

NBC Sports Washington’s preseason broadcast schedule will be announced at a later date.

Here’s the preseason entire slate:

Date                    Opponent           Location                      Time
Sun., Sept. 16      at Boston          TD Garden                  1 p.m.
Tues., Sept. 18    vs. Boston         Capital One Arena     7 p.m.
Thurs., Sept. 20  at Montreal      Quebec City, Que.      7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 21        at Carolina        PNC Arena                  7:30 p.m.
Tues., Sept. 25    at St. Louis        Enterprise Center      7 p.m.
Fri., Sept. 28        vs. Carolina       Capital One Arena    7 p.m.
Sun., Sept. 30      vs. St. Louis      Capital One Arena     3 p.m.

Monday's announcement kicked off a busy week for the Caps.

On Wednesday, Alex Ovechkin will pick up his seventh Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Nicklas Backstrom will also be on hand for media interviews; key members of the Cup-winning team are typically in attendance.

On Friday and Saturday in Dallas, Washington will make selections in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th rounds of the 2018 Entry Draft at American Airlines Center. (Their fifth-round pick was dealt to Minnesota in the Tyler Graovac deal.)

Next Monday, many of the organization’s prospects, including this year’s picks, will report to Kettler Capitals Iceplex for the start of development camp. The schedule and roster will be announced this week.