Q&A: Luke Kuechly talks 'Madden 15,' Panthers defense, Steve Smith

Luke Kuechly is featured in the Madden 15 trailer.
Luke Kuechly is featured in the Madden 15 trailer. (YouTube.com) 

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Though he's not one of the finalists for the Madden 15 cover, Luke Kuechly, Panthers middle linebacker and 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, is prominently featured in the game. 

He's actually the star of the game's new official trailer, released Friday by EA Sports. CBSSports.com talked with Kuechly this week about the Panthers defense, the middle linebacker position and much more. Read the interview below. 

CBSSports.com: The thing that struck me about the Madden trailer was the idea of getting better despite what people think — how did the Panthers turn around the defense so quickly? The last 18 months were a complete 180.

Luke Kuechly: I think [defensive coordinator Sean] McDermott is finally -- it’s year four for him here. And after guys get a look at his defense for the first year and they get to transition in the second year. I think it’s just a building process and the more guys that are familiar with his defense and how it works and what he sees in these defensive guys. I think there was a point in my rookie year, when everything just clicked for everyone. I don’t remember exactly what game it was — I think Atlanta we played really well my rookie year at home. 

It’s just been a building process. Obviously we’ve got a good D-line. Our secondary’s better than people think it is. I think it’s just the biggest thing that guys understand where we need to be and how he likes attacking things. And he does a very good job of listening to us and he likes to see what we like to do and how we see things and he incorporates things into his defense.

CBS: Interesting -- what sort of things have you incorporated? 

LK: It’s not the big scheme-wise. It’s little things. We see things like, if a guy’s more comfortable playing over here we’ll put him there. A big point would be on third down and tendencies of their offense, whether we want to let our guys up front go and rush the passer and us play deep or us go and blitz. He listens to us -- I’m trying to think of a good example. A lot of it’s little coverage things week to week where guys watch the tape and they see, say, Tony Gonzalez runs his stick at eight to 10 yards or at the stick markers. Let’s play this defense a little bit different than we did last week. 

CBS: One of the things that strikes me is how when I played Madden in college two of the top guys were Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher -- do you think the middle linebacker position is experiencing a renaissance of sorts as players adjust to the new style of the NFL?

I think it is. If you look around the NFL the guys are not as big as they used to be. It’s more about covering space. You look at the two guys in San Fran [Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman], those guys are both studs. Jon Beason played awesome last year once he got to New York, [Vontaze] Burfict can run. I think a lot of the game now is if you can run and cover and that’s something where it’s kind of changed.

Ray’s last year he talked about how he lost a bunch of weight so he was able to move and cover and how he played a different kind of game than he got into when he first started playing.

CBS: Do you think the Panthers defense, as good as it was last year … I feel like people aren’t expecting you guys to have the same success as 2013. Is it foolish of people to write you guys off?

That’s kind of how it was going into last year. People said “Oh we don’t know what the Panthers are going to be, they’ve got some good pieces, we’ll see what happens.” But if you look at our defense as a whole, the whole front seven is back, everyone is back, we didn’t lose a single guy. In the back end, we lost Captain Munnerlyn and Mike Mitchell but we put Roman Harper in there, he’s a stud obviously, been around for a while. Thomas DeCoud, he’s at the free now, he’s been a guy who’s played in big games in Atlanta and been to Pro Bowls. And we got Antoine Cason, a guy that’s been around for a while, a first-round draft pick. 

It’s a lot of new pieces but the pieces are all very good. We’re going to take some time to mesh and see how each other are playing, but by the time the season rolls around I think everyone’s going to be just fine.

CBS: Curious what you think about the theory of the trickle-down effect with the drafting of Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short. It gave you more freedom as a linebacker, it freed up Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy on the ends and the secondary doesn’t have to cover as long … do you see that kind of effect?

LK: Absolutely. I think you look at a lot of sports, it starts with the guys up front. Your defensive line and offensive line in football and your big man in basketball, different stuff like that. I think those front four guys played exceptional last year. We’ve got depth at all four spots. The two young inside guys are complimented very well by Dwan [Edwards] and Colin [Cole]. It was one of those things — I’d be in the game and I wouldn’t even know [who was in]. There was no drop off between those two groups, I think they complement each other very well. 

CBS: Lemme ask you about the wideouts — how has the locker room been without Steve Smith and what have you seen from Kelvin Benjamin?

LK: It’s been different without Steve. Steve’s one of those guys that’s always cracking jokes so his spot where his locker is definitely a little bit quieter. And you sometimes miss some of the comic jokes that he has. But we’ll get to see him this year, which is cool.

Kelvin’s a big body. Big hands, long arms, space eater, can throw it up and get it. I think all the young guys are still trying to figure it out a little bit but he had some good catches today. He ran a dig pattern, ran a good slant where he used his body very well and I think he’ll be a very good piece for us. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Will Brinson joined CBS Sports in 2010 and enters his seventh season covering the NFL for CBS. He previously wrote for FanHouse along with myriad other Internet sites. A North Carolina native who lives... Full Bio

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