Carolina Panthers

Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love anxious to show Patriots he can still play

Carolina tackle Kyle Love (61) has been consistent and productive for the injury-ravaged interior of the Panthers’ defense.
Carolina tackle Kyle Love (61) has been consistent and productive for the injury-ravaged interior of the Panthers’ defense. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love has heard fans and critics say his play “fell off” and relishes the opportunity to prove them wrong.

Friday night he has that chance against the team that cut him when the Panthers face the New England Patriots at Bank of America Stadium.

Love, an undrafted 310-pounder out of Mississippi State, spent three seasons with the Patriots before a diabetes diagnosis landed him on the outs.

“Every game I want to play hard so it’s nothing different,” said Love, who will face the Patriots for the first time in his four-year career. “I want to go out there and show people that I can still play, whether it’s diabetes or whatever you think it is. People have their saying that Kyle Love fell off or whatever it might be. I’m not really worried about it, so I’m just going to go out there and play my hardest.”

People have their saying that Kyle Love fell off or whatever it might be. I’m not really worried about it.

Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love

Love has found himself in the middle of the Panthers’ rotation at defensive tackle, with a foot injury sidelining Star Lotulelei and back spasms limiting Kawann Short. He’s kept his weight on, which is tough to do with his disease, and he’s playing some of the best football along a banged-up defensive line.

“This year coming into OTAs and minicamp, he came in in great shape,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “And then he came back to training camp in even better shape, which was astounding. He’s just progressed. He’s probably been our most consistent defensive lineman.”

Love doesn’t know for sure if his diabetes led to his being cut by the Patriots before the 2013 season, and he doesn’t care. In two of his three years there he went to the AFC Championship Game. He appeared in one Super Bowl and learned technique tricks from Vince Wilfork.

He’s just progressed. He’s probably been our most consistent defensive lineman.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera, on defensive tackle Kyle Love

After bouncing from Jacksonville to Kansas City, Love ended up in Carolina toward the end of the regular season last year. He saw 12 snaps against the Seahawks in the divisional round of the playoffs and had one tackle.

With his chances to make the final 53-man roster small entering training camp, Love has played consistently while players around him have been sidelined.

“This is kind of really the same setup from my rookie year,” Love said. ‘I was coming in trying to make the team and we had a lot of injuries with guys going down. You’ve just got to step up when the time is called. And to be a true vet, you’ve really got to show that I’m an older guy, this is why I’m here.”

Last week Love got the start against the Dolphins and made his impact known on the first play of the game.

If you’ve got a guy that’s being consistent and is constantly having production, how can you deny that?

Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love, on his chance to make the roster

Love lined up against right guard Billy Turner and, at the snap, shot past Turner’s right shoulder and into the backfield to tackle running back Lamar Miller for a loss of 1.

Rivera said Love will be part of the defensive tackle rotation with Short, Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole until Lotulelei returns, which could be as early as the start of the regular season.

That rotation keeps the interior of Carolina’s defensive line fresh and can wear down an opponent, especially on a long drive.

“Offensive linemen, they don’t really rotate like defensive linemen,” Love said. “You might have a long drive and you have an offensive lineman who’s really tired and winded and he sees a fresh guy come in and a guy that can actually and he’s like, ‘He’s about to be coming.’”

So to stay in that rotation, Love must keep producing like he has in training camp and in the two exhibitions. If he keeps that up this week against his former team, he feels there should be a spot for him on the final roster.

“This game is about consistency and production,” Love said. “If you’ve got a guy that’s being consistent and is constantly having production, how can you deny that? It’d be very hard to deny somebody like that unless it’s a numbers game. But other than that, you’ve just got to give it your all.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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