For Carolina Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin, it feels like football again

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMay 16, 2014 

The sun was out, but the air was a little crisp Friday for the first practice during the Carolina Panthers’ two-day rookie minicamp.

But the unseasonably cool temperatures didn’t stop wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin from sweating.

Or smiling.

Benjamin, the Panthers’ first-round draft pick and 28th player selected overall, managed to work up a lather during the 75-minute morning session on the team’s practice fields.

Benjamin, a former Florida State star, got in some extra conditioning by running into the end zone after every play, whether the ball was in his hands or not.

“Even on the running plays I try to run (for) a touchdown just to condition to get back into football shape,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin’s final game for the Seminoles was a memorable one: The 6-foot-5, 240-pound wideout pulled down the game-winning, 2-yard touchdown catch with 13 seconds left to lift Florida State over Auburn 34-31 in the BCS Championship Game.

In the four months that followed, Benjamin did plenty of training and weightlifting in advance of the combine and the Seminoles’ pro day.

But for Benjamin, it was nice to be outside on real grass practicing again.

“It felt great to be back playing football. I wasn’t a big believer in the combine and the pro days,” he said, laughing. “It felt real good to be back playing the game that you love.”

It will be a couple more months before Benjamin practices with Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who continues his recovery from offseason ankle surgery.

But the two have talked, and will engage in something resembling football in the near future.

“He challenged me in Madden,” Benjamin said of the popular video game. “So we’ll probably be playing Madden later on this week.”

Benjamin was the only wide receiver the Panthers drafted after they lost their top four wideouts from last season. He was easy to spot in Friday’s helmet-less practice, with his long braids bouncing off the back of his No. 13 jersey as he glided across the secondary on a crossing route.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera noticed him.

“He’s everything we thought he would be,” Rivera said. “We’re not in pads. But watching his route-running, watching him catch the ball, make the adjustments, track the ball, all those types of things were really good to see.”

Defensive end Kony Ealy, the second-round pick from Missouri, met Benjamin a couple of times during the pre-draft process.

“He’s cool. I know him personally now. Just a real cool guy,” Ealy said. “Freak athlete, can’t wait to see what he’s going to do out here on the field.”

Benjamin caught passes from a pair of quarterbacks who are here on tryout contracts – James Vandenberg, who played at Iowa, and Cody Stroud from McNeese State. Benjamin was excited to hear them dial up pass patterns he knew from Florida State.

“When they were calling the routes, I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I ran this,’ ” Benjamin said. “So I know I can come out of the cuts real fast and real good.”

Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards from Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston during his final season in Tallahassee. Benjamin led the ACC with 15 touchdown receptions, which was tied for third nationally.

Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman believes Benjamin will help the Panthers immediately as a red-zone target and has the potential to develop into their No. 1 receiver.

For Benjamin, that process can’t begin soon enough.

“It was great coming out and getting coached up from the coaches, going over the plays, getting used to the playbook,” he said of his first day in a Panthers’ uniform. “So when those veterans come back, you can show what you’ve got.”

Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson

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