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Olsen: Kuechly 'as physically ready' as I've seen him

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Cam Newton's surgically repaired shoulder and the arrival of a pair of dynamic rookie playmakers have dominated the headlines in Carolina, shifting less pressing concerns into the background.

One of those forgotten storylines is former Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly's return to the gridiron in the wake of a season which ended prematurely due to a nationally televised concussion so poignant that anonymous NFL players implored him to consider retirement.

That season-ending blow occurred just 14 months after Kuechly missed three games due to the effects of a concussion sustained early in the 2015 season.

Although he understands the risks to his long-term wellness, Kuechly has been adamant that the head injuries will not drive him from the game he loves.

In fact, Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen has seen a rejuvenated Kuechly in offseason practices.

"This is as physically ready," Olsen said on Tuesday's edition of The Rich Eisen Show, "and as good of shape and as much physically prepared as he's been in the years that I've known him."

As impressive as Kuechly might be in non-contact drills, it's fair to wonder if the concussions will alter his preparation or subconsciously seep into his physical playing style.

"Of course we all kind of shared those same thoughts," Olsen explained, "watching him get carted off that game against New Orleans. It's a scary sight for any player let alone one of your leaders and kind of fixtures on the team. It's the unfortunate reality of the sport that we all play.

"But just seeing Luke being in great spirits and not missing a beat in workouts and training, you know I think he's in a mentally good place where he has kind of moved on from that. He's not playing with any hesitation and concern, and he's just going to go out and play the way he always has."

Not just the premier sideline-to-sideline linebacker of his generation, Kuechly also is the beating heart of Carolina's defense. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has managed to remain free of head injuries for six years following a pair of 2010 concussions. Can we expect the same run of concussion evasiveness for a middle linebacker involved in a dozen hits per game?

If the Panthers have designs on returning to the NFC South perch, Kuechly's ability to keep his head and neck out of harm's way is just as important as Newton's recovery from surgery.

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