Luke and Von: the linebackers who make a difference
Luke and Von.
Sounds like a beach band from the Sixties, or maybe offshoots of the ''Dukes of Hazzard.''
In reality, Luke Kuechly and Von Miller are exactly what successful teams need in the NFL. The All-Pro linebackers are versatile, fierce competitors, leaders and playmakers.
They will bear watching in the Super Bowl as much as Peyton Manning and Cam Newton.
Miller, the second overall draft pick in 2011, won Defensive Rookie of the Year that season.
Kuechly, chosen ninth overall the next year, succeeded Miller for that honor.
And in 2013, Kuechly was the league's top defensive player, an award both he and Miller are contenders for this season.
More important than that individual recognition, each will tell you, are the team marks posted by Kuechly's Panthers and Miller's Broncos during their short but already memorable careers: Carolina has won three straight NFC South titles, and Denver has taken the AFC West in all five of Miller's pro seasons.
''I'm a fan of him,'' Newton says of Miller. ''Trying to find any and every way to alleviate him being a pain, but that's what this week of preparation will be.''
Better prepare diligently for Miller, or else that pain will be felt by just about everyone on the Panthers' offense.
Consider the damage Miller wrought last Sunday in the AFC championship game. He had 2 1/2 sacks, an interception, constant pressure on Tom Brady, and was a force against New England's meager running game.
Yes, Miller was everywhere, and it wouldn't be unfair to single him out as the biggest reason the Broncos are in their second Super Bowl in three years.
His skills are such that defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is comfortable turning Miller loose on the pass rush, dropping him in coverage - especially to cover tight ends - and lining him up almost anywhere on the field.
Phillips has called Miller the defense's ''catalyst.''
''He has great explosion,'' Phillips said. ''He's tremendously quick off the ball. He's probably the quickest in the league. That helps him first. ... He has that tremendous speed, but it's explosive speed. Some guys can run fast, but it's kind of straight-line speed.
''He's very athletic, can change directions and accelerate really quickly. Great running backs have the same thing. They have that acceleration that they (use to) get through the hole.
''He's the same way as a pass rusher or a defensive player. He's there, they think that they can block him and then he gets by them. He defeats his guy most of the time and most every play. That's hard to do in this league.''
Kuechly isn't as fast and might not be as strong as Miller. He isn't as dangerous on the pass rush with seven career sacks in the regular season; Miller had 11 in 2015.
He also plays inside, while Miller is an outside linebacker.
None of which matters in big spots. Kuechly makes plays in the middle of the field or near the sideline. He finds the ball - or, as Panthers cornerback and fellow All-Pro Josh Norman has said, ''the ball finds Luke.''
And when the football is in his grasp, it's a good idea to look for him in the end zone. Kuechly has had a pick-six in each of Carolina's playoff games this season. He excels at baiting quarterbacks into ill-advised throws, though doing so against Manning is difficult.
Kuechly already has a catchy nickname: ''Captain America''. Miller eschews that kind of recognition.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker himself, sees a victory next weekend as just another step for his star defender. His comments also could just as easily apply to Miller.
''There are a lot of great players who never got to play in a Super Bowl, so whether you have to have that Super Bowl to cement who you are or what you're worth,'' Rivera said.
''I don't think Luke is really worried about that. But I think it just kind of fast-tracks you and people take a lot quicker notice. At the end of the day you can say on your business card `Super Bowl champion.' I mean that's probably the next thing.
''As far as what he'll mean to this game in 10 years, I think it will help in terms of recognition, but I think it will be real hard to pass him up just based on the way he's played in just his first four seasons.''
As we get closer to the big game, the hype machines will spiral out of control. Know this before they even get started, though: Luke and Von have nothing to do with old-time rock or down-home TV.
They're all about turning the tide on a football field. What better stage than Super Bowl 50 for them to strut their stuff?
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this story.
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