Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was cleared from concussion protocol a little less than a week ago, but we did not see him on the field against Washington on Monday night. The particularly jarring nature of his injury has spawned a thousand different opinions about the All-Pro linebacker's future in the NFL but on Wednesday, Kuechly made it clear that playing football was still in his best interest.
Kuechly said he appreciated the concern when asked specifically about a Bleacher Report piece that quoted anonymous NFL players imploring Kuechly to sit out the remainder of the season and consider retirement.
"I know you appreciate those guys who want what is best for you and it's a thing we'll learn more about," Kuechly told reporters Wednesday. "I trust what our doctors have to say. I trust our coaches and all those guys. I want to get out there and play. This most recent time -- just like the last time -- everyone said 'you're good to go'. Just let it get better and then go from there. I'm excited whenever the opportunity is but I'm holding that retirement word for a little ways down the road so it's something you appreciate everyone's concern but whenever my opportunity comes back, I'll be back out there."
Kuechly also missed three games a year ago while in concussion protocol.
Head coach Ron Rivera has been cautious with his star player of late. He said the decision to sit Kuechly against Washington on Monday night was contentious, as the 25-year-old lobbied to get his spot back. There is still no word on whether the Panthers (6-8) will employ Kuechly's services over the final two games of the season.
"(Rivera) said you're not going to play this week, and then we'll kind of go on from there," Kuechly said. "I'm crossing my fingers every week that they're going to give me the thumbs up to go but those guys have a good plan in place of what they want to do and what's best for the team. I'm going to prepare like I'm playing. I'm going to make sure I'm ready to go but we'll see what happens moving forward with it."
He added: "I don't want to say frustrating. I think even last year is kind of the same as this year. You just want to play and that's probably the most frustrating part -- if that's what you want to call it. You want to be out there playing because that's what you prepare the whole year for, the whole season for is to be out there playing. A couple things haven't gone our way this year but I really do enjoy watching Shaq (Thompson) and A.J. (Klein) out there with Thomas (Davis) running around there, playing well. Those guys, along with Thomas have made some big plays in games that have helped us win."
Rivera has seen a handful of players go in and out of concussion protocol this season including star quarterback Cam Newton. At this point, it does not seem worth it to cave no matter how much Kuechly wants to play. This same team will be back next year and ready to shake off whatever issues forced them to miss the playoffs in 2016 (they can still make the playoffs if they win out, but their scenario is Inception-style crazy. Even though Kuechly has had a month, sometimes it takes some time away from the facility to approach the situation with a clear point of view.