Carolina Panthers’ Frankie Luvu measuring up to Greene’s vision – ESPN – Carolina Panthers Blog

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Frankie Luvu‘s attempt to order breakfast the day before the Carolina Panthers reported for training camp was anything but simple.

“Do you have regular eggs and turkey bacon?” he asked at a Charlotte-area restaurant.

“No turkey bacon,” the server responded.

“Sausage?” Luvu asked. The server replied they only had thick-cut pork-belly bacon.

The 26-year-old linebacker from the village of Tafuna in American Samoa learned early in his career to carefully control his caloric intake. He patiently changed his order to avocado toast and eggs, tossing in a side order of salmon just as the server left the table. Luvu understands the virtue of patience as well as anyone after going from signing with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2018, to playing in obscurity for most of his first four NFL seasons, to finally becoming a regular starter in 2022.

“I say find the good in everything,” Luvu told ESPN. “There’s always going to be a bad here and there. That’s something I take from every day, just being who I am.”

With his former team coming to Wofford College for a pair of joint practices with the Panthers on Wednesday and Thursday, 39-year-old Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers will get most of the headlines.

But Luvu has a good story, too. He recently passed the test for American citizenship and is entrenched with Shaq Thompson at inside linebacker as the Panthers transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base defense.

He’s coming off his best season — setting career-highs in games started (14), tackles (111) and sacks (7.0) — leading to buzz he could be a breakout defender, something that was hard to imagine his rookie year when he went back and forth between the Jets’ practice squad and 53-man roster.

He’s in this position in part thanks to a bond he built with Hall of Famer Kevin Greene — a former Jets outside linebackers coach who played three seasons for the Panthers.

According to Luvu, Greene instilled in him everything from a passionate attitude for the game to the diet that made Luvu so fastidious about his breakfast order.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for him,” Luvu said of Greene, who died of a heart attack in 2020 at the age of 58. “He saw something in me that I didn’t even see myself. He was on my ass constantly.”

That Luvu is working under senior defensive consultant Dom Capers — the first head coach of the Panthers who worked with Greene both when Greene was a player and an assistant coach — makes it special.

“I love Dom,” Luvu said as he scarfed down a bite of salmon. “One big reason, he coached Kevin Greene.”

Greene laid out the same steps to success that he himself followed to becoming a five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time league sack leader.

“Study habits. Eating habits. Sleeping,” Luvu recalled. “He said, ‘If you want to be great, all these habits you’ve got to do.’”

Carolina coach Frank Reich, a former NFL quarterback, sees Greene’s influence. He was reminded of a recent conversation with general manager Scott Fitterer.

“I said, ‘How did we end up with this guy?’ ” Reich said of Luvu. “I was, ‘Man, this is the steal of the century.’ Love his leadership. Love his play, his consistency, his aggressiveness. We’re in a good place with Frankie.”

The Panthers signed Luvu to a one-year deal in 2021 after he was untendered by the Jets, making him a free agent.

While he started only four games and had only 1.5 sacks that season, Fitterer and former coach Matt Rhule saw enough in him to move on from sack specialist Haason Reddick during the 2022 offseason and give Luvu a two-year, $9 million extension.

Luvu responded with his best season, showing he could reach the potential Greene recognized.

“It was tough love,” Luvu recalled of days Greene would pick him up at home and work with him individually during his rookie season. “But he kept it real. From what I see with Dom, I see why KG was like that.”

Capers sees a resemblance to Greene, from Luvu’s reckless abandon to the way Luvu meticulously fixes his jersey to fit skin tight around his shoulder pads so offensive linemen don’t have anything to grab.

“He’s going to go 100 miles per hour every single play,” Capers said. “He throws his body around with disregard and just has a very aggressive mindset. Kevin had that same mentality.”

Greene turned that into a Hall of Fame career. His 160 sacks rank third all-time in NFL history and first all-time among linebackers. While Capers doesn’t predict that path for Luvu, the Panthers believe the best is yet to come.

“He might be playing a different position, but his instincts, his reckless style, his pursuit of the ball, that follows everywhere on defense,” Fitterer said.

“And we’ll still use him outside. He’s not just going to be solely at inside linebacker. There’ll be some situations where we put him outside and blitz him and do different things with him.”

Luvu is expected to get about 20 percent of the snaps outside behind Marquis Haynes, Yetur Gross-Matos and rookie DJ Johnson as the edge rusher opposite Pro Bowler Brian Burns.

“Frankie’s strength is he’s a versatile guy who can drop in coverage and also rush the passer,” Capers said. “That’s valuable, because he gives you the ability to disguise whether a guy’s rushing or dropping.”

Another one of Luvu’s strengths is his ability to motivate teammates. Cornerback Donte Jackson calls Luvu the “Energizer Bunny.”

“He’s that guy that gets everybody going,” Jackson said. “He’s first to the ball. He’s first to the huddle. He’s that guy who brings that edge.”

Luvu is just focused on living up to the standards Greene set for him. He knows if Greene were alive he would be proud.

“He would definitely check on my weight,” said Luvu, who at 6-foot-3 and 236 pounds is slightly lighter than Greene’s playing weight. “He just knows the weight is important at the position. He was always harping on how many calories you have.

“But more than anything he would tell me don’t let another grown-ass man whip you. You take the fight to them.”



Source : ESPN