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Luke Kuechly declined NFL draft invitation, has visited Panthers and Titans

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer
Kuechly's working hard to prove critics wrong. (Getty Images)

Luke Kuechly's the top middle linebacker in the 2012 NFL Draft -- and it's not even close. But because linebacker's been devalued in the NFL due to increased passing attacks, no one's really sure where Keuchly will end up going.

I caught up with the Boston College linebacker over the weekend while he was training with Gatorade at IMG Sports Academies in Bradenten, Florida to talk about what he's doing to prep for the draft, if he was invited to the draft, what teams he's visited with, why middle linebacker's still important, whether or not he gets stereotyped in the bigger scheme of the draft, the increased importance of tight ends in NFL offenses and much, much more.

Will Brinson: You're down at IMG -- probably a pretty nice place to be this year, right? -- can you talk about what you're working on, what kind of drills you're doing specifically?

Luke Kuechly: We're down here for a couple days with Gatorade working on the nutrition side of things, doing the [Gatorade Sports Science Institute] testing, which kind of gives us a baseline for things. And they're stressing the nutrition aspect of before, during and after workouts. They've got us doing a couple drills on the field to measure sweat and sweat loss and how it's important to performance. That's what Gatorade's based around obviously -- the hydration and the electrolytes.

WB: Are you attending the draft this year?

LK: No I'm not.

WB: Were you invited to attend the draft?

LK: Yes I was. I wanted to do it at home so I could have a little more family come and that was really important for me.

WB: What teams have you talked to leading up to the draft and what conversations you've enjoyed?

LK: I've visited a couple places -- I've only been to one or two places so far. It's just one of those things you've got to go in with an open mind. I've been to Carolina and Tennessee and I've got a couple more scheduled. It's one of those things, you've got to present yourself in a good fashion and answer their questions and just be you so they know what they're getting if they draft you. Most of it's out of the way now so we just have to sit around and wait for the draft to roll around.

WB: So where will you watch the draft?

LK: Probably in my house -- in my basement or somewhere around there. I'm excited, looking forward to it, to get that weight off your shoulders when your name is called.

WB: When you look at the middle linebacker position -- there's a common perception that MLB isn't as important as it used to be with the proliferation of the passing game -- do you think there's a misconception about how important the middle linebacker position is in football right now?

LK: I think it's still a real important position. A lot of people refer to it as the "quarterback of the defense" and it's often the guy who make all the calls and whatnot, so if you don't have that, you're not going to be as effective as a team. You look at good teams and they have good middle linebackers. Like you said, the game's changed and I think as a result linebackers have changed a little bit. It's one of those things you've got to have good linebackers to have a good team and like I said you've got to set the defense among other stuff, and if you've got a guy who can do that, you can be a successful defense.

WB: Would you be OK playing in a 3-4 defense? Or do you prefer a 4-3 like you played in Boston College -- does that effect where you go?

LK: Obviously I'm a SAM so I'd probably be more comfortable in a 4-3 because that's what I played in the last few years, but if I'm going into a 3-4 it's one of those things where you just adjust, you just make the necessary adjustments to be successful.

WB: You're obviously pretty proficient at tackling (first or second in the NCAA the last three years is OK, I guess), but have you discussed your roll and ability to be a blitzing linebacker with teams?

LK: They say if you come out you have to have the threat of being able to blitz. And certain teams have certain linebackers blitz more -- some guys have wills blitz, some guys have SAMs, some guys have Mikes blitz more so whatever system you're in you have to adjust. But I haven't had too deep a conversation with anyone about moving to more of a blitzing linebacker, it's just kind of a wait and see and go from there.

WB: Are you surprised by the terms that get thrown around with you when it comes to the draft like "intangibles," and "clean prospect"? Do you think you get stereotyped because of what position you play and where you played ball? Or do you think people simply minimize your athleticism?

LK: You know, that's one of those things I can't control, you know, what other people say. I can control what I can control and that's how I play. At the combine, I thought I did well there. It's just what people say -- for me if they want to say you're unathletic, you're not fast enough, you're not big enough, that's cool, because I can keep playing, I can keep being successful no matter what people say.

WB: Good deal -- speaking of athleticism, tight ends are becoming really important in the NFL passing game with guys like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, have you talked to teams about the importance of being able to cover these guys?

LK: Kind of like the blitzing thing, I haven't had a lot of specific conversations about it. But the tight ends, they're big, they're fast, they're athletic, they can move and they can catch the ball real well. So that's one of those things about transitioning to the next level -- you have to be able to play with those guys, you have to be able to compete with them on their routes and stuff and that's just another one of those challenges you have to be able to accept.

WB: Alright, cool deal -- so back to IMG, are you doing mostly on-field or lab stuff right now?

LK: A little bit of both. The GSSI testing is the lab stuff and they've got us on the field to measure the sweat stuff, doing drills to measure the sweat-content loss. How that incorporates what you lose and how to replenish that under the heat.

WB: Have you tried the Gatorade chews? I've heard good things.

LK: Yeah they're good -- I used them at the combine before the drills when we were out on the field testing. It's high-carbs and gives a little bit of energy.

WB: Ha, nice. Alright man, thanks again for the time and best of luck in the draft.
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