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Luke Kuechly will be Carolina Panthers' weakside LB -- for now

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Luke Kuechly has a new number and, at least for now, a new position with the Carolina Panthers.

Before his first NFL practice, Kuechly received No. 59 -- the same number his new coach, Ron Rivera, wore during his nine seasons with the Chicago Bears -- and was told he'll start out playing weakside linebacker. That's a change from the middle linebacker spot Kuechly primarily played at Boston College, where he wore No. 40 and led the nation in tackles the last two seasons.

For now, the Panthers plan to keep three-time Pro Bowl selection Jon Beason at middle linebacker -- although things could change before the start of the season. Beason is hoping to return from a torn Achilles.

"We'll start out with (Kuechly) on the outside, and Jon will be on the inside," Rivera said of the Panthers' first-round draft pick. "I've talked with Jon about playing inside and outside. It will be an interesting experiment as we go through this. Quite frankly, we want to make sure we put the best combination of players on the football field."

The Panthers already have a tremendous talent in former first-round pick Thomas Davis at weakside linebacker, but he has torn his right anterior cruciate ligament three times in the past three years. Kuechly could be his replacement.

Regardless of where Kuechly ends up, there's little doubt the Panthers have big plans for him.

"You have to come in with the mindset that you're at the bottom of the totem pole now," Kuechly said. "There will be guys that have been here 10 or 15 years and you have to gain their respect. You can't come in thinking that you've arrived because you haven't done anything yet. You have to prove what you can do."

The Panthers put Kuechly's football intelligence to the test during his first day on the practice field, working him both at weakside and middle linebacker. Rivera said Kuechly handled it well, just as he expected.

"He looked good," Rivera said. "We put some pressure on him to learn both positions, but we think he's that kind of football player and that kind of athlete that can handle it. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with the rest of the guys on defense."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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