Jon Beason ready for position change

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Carolina's Jon Beason still believes he can be a dominant NFL player, even though he's coming off a pair of season-ending injuries and changing positions this season.

Beason, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, is recovering from injuries that have limited him to just five games over the past two seasons.

When he returns he'll be playing weak side linebacker.

That's a fairly significant change from his first four years in the league playing middle linebacker where he was able to roam from sideline to sideline making plays.

The move is to accommodate young star Luke Kuechly, who replaced an injured Beason at middle linebacker last season and went on to lead the NFL in tackles and earn AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.

In Beason's eyes, Kuechly deserves to stay there and the move is in the best interest of the team.

"Right now he's the best in the league at that position," Beason told The Associated Press Tuesday during a fundraiser for his MLB Foundation which raises money for underprivileged children.

Moving outside is clearly not Beason's preference — he's more comfortable playing the middle where he has more freedom to roam the field — but he said right now it's all about winning championships.

It would have been easy for Beason to complain about the move or even seek a trade or release from his contract.

After all, he was a four-year starter at middle linebacker for the Panthers from 2007-2010, going to three Pro Bowls during that span while leading the team in tackles four straight seasons.

Instead, Beason took the new opportunity as a challenge.

He said he attacked his rehabilitation process with vigor, eager to earn a starting spot alongside Kuechly, the kid he helped mentor all of last season, while trying to resurrect his own professional career.

"You look at Luke and you say this kid is exceptional — this kid can play," Beason said. "So I'm like, well let's get out there and be great together. Let's get everyone together on the same page and go out and be one of the top defenses in the league, because we have that potential."

Kuechly said last year Beason was instrumental in his growth, teaching him the ins and outs of the game.

"Jon was awesome, extremely knowledgeable and helpful," Kuechly said last season.

Beason said he is just passing down what he learned from those who taught him coming into the league.

"I'm all about being a team guy and I've always been that," Beason said. "You have to be a pro."

Beason is familiar with the weak side linebacker spot having played that position for a season at the University of Miami.

Carolina actually drafted him in the first round in 2007 with the intention of using him at weak side linebacker, although they'd later move him inside when Dan Morgan's concussions began to add up.

If Beason does wind up at weak side linebacker it creates a quandary for the coaching staff.

Beason's best friend on the team, Thomas Davis, had a productive season at that spot last year after returning from three torn ACLs in successive seasons. But Davis is better suited than Beason to move to the strong side where the Panthers needed to replace James Anderson, who was cut earlier this offseason in a salary cap move.

Beason said he anticipates Davis will move to strong side, but added "I think Thomas and I can play both spots."

Regardless of where he ends up, Beason is just looking to stay healthy and be productive again.

He hasn't been since signing a six-year, $50 million contract during owner Jerry Richardson's summer of free spending in 2011 just days after the NFL owners reached a new collective bargaining agreement with the players.

The Panthers couldn't have possibly imagined the injuries that were about to beset the seemingly invincible Beason, a player with a tough as nails reputation who hadn't missed a game during his four seasons.

Beason's injury problems began soon after signing his extension.

He tore his Achilles in the 2011 season opener against Arizona while chasing down tight end Jeff King, ending his season prematurely. He came back last season he started four games before shoulder and knee issues forced him to injured reserve again.

"It's been a tough stretch and you think that the worst has to be behind you," Beason said.

Beason said the torn labrum in his shoulder feels completely healed and he doesn't believe it will be an issue.

The right knee has been more problematic.

He's still recovering from microfracture surgery and said he likely won't be cleared to participate in all drills until training camp.

"You don't win championships in April, so they're going to be cautious with it," Beason said. "But I'm definitely anxious to return. I think we have the makings of a great linebacking corps and the sky is the limit for this defense."

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