CHARLOTTE — Luke Kuechly has always had the gift of making complicated things seem simple.
So when he was talking about a football player improving and said, “reps help you get good at something,” it was the kind of straightforward analysis that’s true in almost every case. And when he was on the field, he was always in the right place at the right time, which made it look far easier than it actually was.
That’s why it’s kind of amazing to watch him walk into a new situation and exhibit a quick knack for it, if not (yet) a mastery of that skill.
Kuechly is coming back to the Panthers organization to be part of this year’s radio broadcast for seven games, joining play-by-play announcer Anish Shroff and either Jordan Gross or Jake Delhomme, along with sideline reporter Kristen Balboni. Kuechly will be in the booth for six home games (Week 1 against the Browns, Week 4 against the Cardinals, Week 5 against the 49ers, Week 7 against the Buccaneers, Week 12 against the Broncos, and Week 15 against the Steelers), and the road trip to his hometown of Cincinnati (Week 9). Jim Szoke will continue to act as the third man in the booth for the games Kuechly doesn’t do.
“You just know (Kuechly’s) going to be good at it,” Delhomme said. “I look forward to it because he’s so smart.”
Football always seemed to come naturally to Kuechly, the Panthers’ 2012 first-round pick and 2013 NFL defensive player of the year. But it was a talent he honed over years, through meticulous preparation. This is new, but he still seems to always be in the right place at the right time, as if he’s been doing it for years.
He came into Bank of America Stadium recently for his own broadcast version of training camp, and within moments he was ad-libbing lines with his new teammates and showing the kind of timing that just doesn’t come automatically when you’ve never done that particular thing before.
For him, walking into the broadcast booth seems like a natural next step after his eight years here on the field. Partially, that’s because he makes everything seem so natural.
“I just love the Panthers; I love being around it,” Kuechly said. “I love the people. I think I want to be attached to the team, and the game, and the organization somehow.
“I think it could be a lot of fun. I think that’s the biggest reason, to do something around the game on game day that’s fun. You still get the atmosphere, and all the good memories I have here in Carolina.”
Kuechly created so many good memories for fans here during his career, and now he’s going to get a chance to describe what’s happening on the field. Working alongside a former teammate like Gross, or a former quarterback like Delhomme, creates the potential for insight from both sides of the ball.
Kuechly said he’s talked to both his future broadcast partners in advance of this project, and is looking forward to doing the thing he’s so good at — talking about the game.
“They just talk about how much fun it’s been,” he said of their forays into broadcasting. “I think at the end of the day, it’s really just football. And I think talking about football is relatively easy.
“There’s going to be a learning curve, and things happen way faster in the booth. To be able to deliver a concise message and paint a picture for somebody is something these guys are really good at, and I’m going to have to get used to.”
After spending so much of his life watching game tape, Kuechly’s used to being able to rewind if he sees something unusual or interesting. There’s no clicker on this broadcast, though, which will require him to adjust.
“Watching tape, I can rewind, I can pause, I can fast-forward, I can skip a play. But here I get one shot and go. It’s fun,” he said genuinely, because that’s how Luke Kuechly says things. “To see the field from a different angle is cool, and it’s fun to see it from this high, because it looks so much slower. When you’re on field level, everything looks like it’s moving so much faster because you don’t have that perspective from being high.
“The perspective from up here is really cool.”
Delhomme used the same word to describe his addition to the booth, saying that because of Kuechly’s reputation for preparation, he anticipates that it won’t take long for him to sound like a veteran.
“It’ll be cool,” Delhomme said. “I told him, the way he studies the game, I’m not worried about him stepping on any toes.”
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Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly, top, celebrates after sacking Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly Carolina Panthers against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of American Stadium on Sunday, September 24, 2017 in Charlotte, NC.
Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/2017 Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez
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Luke Kuechly returns an interception during a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, November 26, 2017.
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Luke Kuechly at the game against the Saints on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018.
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Luke Kuechly signals before the snap against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, November 18, 2018. The Carolina Panthers play against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 in Detroit, MI.
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Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday, December 23, 2018.
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Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis talk during Panthers practice on Thursday, December 13, 2018.
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Carolina Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly (59) and Thomas Davis (58) look into the backfield during an NFL Super Bowl 50 football game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10. (Kevin Terrell via AP)
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Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly during team stretch before the game against Washington on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018 at FedEx Field in Landover, MD.
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Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) during warm ups prior to Super Bowl 50 championship football game on Sunday, February 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos won the game 24-10. (Perry Knotts via AP)
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Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) celebrates after making a play during an NFL Super Bowl 50 football game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10. (Kevin Terrell via AP)
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Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) runs to sack Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) during Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers , Sunday, February 6, 2016, in Santa Clara, CA. The Broncos won 28-10. (Tom Hauck via AP)
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Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) celebrates his sack of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) on Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016 in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 24-10 to win Super Bowl 50. (Todd Rosenberg via AP)
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Carolina Panthers celebrate after the NFL football NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. The Panthers won 49-15 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)