CLEVELAND -- The Carolina Panthers have plenty of playmakers on defense, but middle linebacker Luke Kuechly is the unquestioned leader of the group.

Kuechly is about doing what he can to make plays, but also, make sure his teammates are in the right spots well before an opposing quarterback calls for a snap.

“You can just tell pre-snap, he’s pointing out plays,” Cleveland Browns linebacker Joe Schobert said. “He’s telling other teammates where to go, and then, as soon as the ball is snapped, taking off.

“Sometimes, it doesn’t even look like he’s reading. He’s turned sideways talking to somebody and as soon as the ball is snapped, he just takes off in the direction he knows the play is going to go, and I think that pre-snap awareness and that pre-snap anticipation just really sets him apart.”

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Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) defends against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Kim Klement

The 27-year old Kuechly, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, and graduate of St. Xavier High School, is on pace for his best season since 2014. Kuechly has registered 121 total tackles, including 95 solo stops, 26 assists and two sacks.

Additionally, Kuechly has registered six quarterback pressures, one fumble recovery and an interception.

“You are not going to fool those kinds of guys,” Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said. “I would have loved to have had the opportunity to coach him many years ago. He did not fall right in the draft and did a lot of work on him. There are a lot of similarities, from a mental standpoint, of what we were talking about with Schobert and what you see with Kuech and what he is able to do on the checks systems and understanding the little nuances of offensive concepts and stuff.

“He is able and not afraid to abort the defensive call or his responsibility because he understands the offensive concept. Those are things that pose problems. Baker (Mayfield) has been studying a bunch, and we have all talked about those kinds of things with him and some of the other guys there, too. It will be a good competition.”

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Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) hustles toward the ball during a game against the Baltimore Ravens at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jeremy Brevard

With 16 career interceptions, Kuechly needs only four picks to become the third linebacker in NFL history with 20 passing takeaways in his first seven years in the league. Also, with 24 total takeaways, Kuechly is three away from becoming the NFL’s most prolific linebacker over his first seven seasons.

Already with 16 tackles for lost yardage this year, Kuechly needs four more to set Carolina’s record for the most in a single season.

“Everything that I have heard about him through the years and watching tape, it seems to be true,” Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “Obviously, a very smart guy, physical, athletic. He is kind of a jack of all trades there in the middle.”

Schobert added, “With the situation they are in down there and having a guy in the middle like that, when you watch them play football, he is calling out a lot of plays and getting the defense in the right spot. It is going to be huge, so hopefully, our offense puts some wrinkles in their game to throw them off-balance and take advantages of some of the things that they see.”

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