The Carolina Panthers placed three players – middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert – on the first team of the Associated Press All-Pro team Friday, matching the 1996 team for the most first-team selections in franchise history.
Defensive end Greg Hardy was named to the second team.
All four of the Panthers’ All-Pro choices also made the Pro Bowl.
“All four have worked very hard, have done a great job for us and deservedly so,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I am disappointed for a number of guys, though. We had some guys that played very well that deserve recognition as well. Unfortunately, not everybody can be.”
The last time the Panthers had four All-Pros was 2008, which was the last time they made the playoffs.
Quarterback Cam Newton was the only Pro Bowl invitee from the Panthers not named to the All-Pro team. Denver’s Peyton Manning was the only unanimous selection for the All-Pro team, so a second-team quarterback was not named.
Tolbert’s selection came four days after the death of his grandfather, Willie Walker. Tolbert left after Friday’s practice for the funeral in Atlanta.
“It’s a little bittersweet. I wish my grandfather could be here to see it,” Tolbert said. “He’s the only man that’s been in my life since the time I was born.”
Tolbert, a 2007 All-American at Coastal Carolina, is the first player from a Big South school voted to the AP All-Pro team, according to a Coastal Carolina release.
Tolbert, Kuechly and Hardy are all first-time All-Pros. Tolbert’s 361 rushing yards, 184 receiving yards and seven total touchdowns helped him win the honor over second-team fullback Marcel Reece from Oakland.
The All-Pro nod is the second for Kalil, who was named to the second team in 2011 before sustaining a season-ending foot injury early in the 2012 season.
“It’s a huge honor. I think I get too much credit. I think there’s a lot of moving parts to an individual’s success in a game like football,” Kalil said. “I know I’m very fortunate to have a really good group of guys around me and I have an incredible coach in John Matsko. Give a lot of credit to him. We spent a lot of extra time (coming back from injury) together and he really helped me get back.”
Kuechly, in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, was joined by San Francisco’s NaVarro Bowman on the first team. Kuechly, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year who is fourth in the league in tackles, also deflected the praise.
“It’s an individual award, but it’s a representation of the team,” Kuechly said. “You’ve got four guys in front of you, the other linebackers, your coaches, the DBs (defensive backs) behind you, to make everything possible.”
Buffalo’s Mario Williams joined Hardy on the second-team All-Pro list at defensive end. Houston’s J.J. Watt and St. Louis’ Robert Quinn took first-team honors.
“They’re ones you can’t really argue with, can you?” said Hardy, who finished third in the league and tied a team record with 15 sacks.
Smith update: Wide receiver Steve Smith has done most of his rehab work indoors, but Rivera hopes to have Smith and the other two injured starters on the field next week and playing in the Jan. 12 divisional-round playoff game.
Smith sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 16 against the Saints and missed the regular-season finale at Atlanta. Running back Jonathan Stewart has missed three games with a sprained MCL, and defensive tackle Colin Cole sat out the Atlanta game with a strained calf.
“Next week we’ll get them out on the field and then integrate them on Wednesday,” Rivera said. “They’ve been getting treatment.”
Smith has been doing treadmill, elliptical and underwater treadmill work. But he has not yet said he’ll be ready for the Jan. 12 playoff game.
Frozen tundra: With temperatures expected to be below zero in Green Bay for Sunday’s NFC wild-card game between the Packers and 49ers, Panthers players said they’re happy for the first-round bye and home game next week.
The temperature at the start of the Panthers’ practice Friday was 27 degrees, prompting most players to wear extra layers. Only a few went out in short sleeves, including Kalil, who is from southern California.
Rivera said he liked the way his team practiced in the cold Friday, but that he’s glad they don’t have to deal with it this weekend.
“It’s one of those things, if you let it get in your head it can be a distraction,” Rivera said. “Thankfully for us, we don’t have to worry about that.”
Kuechly noted that three of the wild-card games will be outdoors in cold-weather cities, including his hometown of Cincinnati. The other AFC game will be indoors in Indianapolis.
“Oh, that doesn’t count,” Kuechly said.
Looking ahead: The Panthers signed eight players to their reserve/future list on Friday.
Wide receiver Toney Clemons and defensive tackle Casey Walker will return to the team after stints on the practice squad this season. Joining them are guards Derek Dennis and Phillipkeith Manley, tackles Kevin Hughes and Oscar Johnson, cornerback De’Quan Menzie and linebacker D.J. Smith.
Smith is a former Independence High standout who played at Appalachian State before Green Bay drafted him in the sixth round of the 2011 draft.
The players will not officially be on the team until the start of the 2014 league year in March.
Edwards fined: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards was fined $15,750 by the league for a roughing the passer call on Matt Ryan during the third quarter of last week’s game at Atlanta.
No other fines from the game were announced.
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson