Ben Boulware is pretty sure he has already made Carolina’s All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly mad. The former Clemson All-American, who is trying to soak up as much information as he can, is trying to make the Panthers’ 53-man roster this summer.
So when he isn’t sure of something or he just wants to learn more, he goes to Kuechly for the answers.
“I’m pretty sure I’ve made Luke mad numerous times because I’m annoying him,” Boulware said in an article in The Spartanburg Herald Journal after talking to the media this past week.
Boulware says he is only annoying Kuechly because he is the best in the business and he is a football guru. Since being drafted by Carolina as he No. 9 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Kuechly quickly became the best linebacker in the league.
In 2012 he was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a year later he became the youngest player in NFL history to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Kuechly has been named All-Pro in three of his five years in the league.
“You don’t have a guy like that in a lot of organizations so I’m a sponge with him,” Boulware said. “I think he understands how much I want this job so I think he’s OK with it, but probably getting a little annoyed.”
The thing is, the rookie is an annoyance, but Kuechly and Carolina head coach Ron Rivera don’t mind it at all.
“It’s one of those things you love to see,” Rivera said. “You love to see that this young man wants to be part of it and he works very hard. He’s a very smart player and we’re very pleased with his progress. He’s one of those guys that is constantly trying to learn and that’s huge, that’s good.”
Kuechly says Boulware asks a lot of questions, but they are good questions, smart questions, “ones that let you know he’s thinking and understanding and processing what’s going on,” Kuechly said on Friday. “I think he’s smart and really does a good job understanding.”
On Friday, the Panthers put the pads on for the first time in training camp and this is generally the time when the men separate themselves from the boys. Kuechly expects Boulware will be right in the middle of everything trying to prove himself.
“Some guys are athletes and some guys are football players,” the All-Pro said. “He’s a football player and better when the pads are on and it’s a live period and you’re hitting and you’re running and getting off blocks. I think that’s his game. I think he’ll have a good opportunity the next couple of weeks to show what he’s got.”
This is not the first time Boulware has to prove himself. Though he was a 4-star linebacker coming out of high school at Anderson’s T.L. Hanna, some believed he would not be a star at Clemson and probably would not start. But Boulware proved them wrong. He became a major contributor as a reserve player his freshman and sophomore year and then became a full-time starter by his junior season.
He finished his Clemson career as a two-time All-ACC Linebacker, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, an All-American and then was the Defensive MVP in the Tigers’ win over Alabama in last season’s national championship game.
At 5-foot-11, 240-pounds, NFL scouts and analysts said he was too short and not fast enough to play in the league. He went undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft, but was instantly picked up and signed by the Panthers as a free agent.
Now Boulware is once again out to prove all of those who doubted him wrong.
“I realize there’s spots open and not much security when it comes to being in the NFL, so everyone’s fighting for a job,” he said. “Just doing my job and being accountable, mainly on special teams and making an impact on that. However many reps I get, if I get 10 a day, (I’m) making sure every single one is perfect.”
–Photo Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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