Why He Was Drafted
A play midway through Wednesday’s practice was a perfect example of why the Panthers feel in love with Kelvin Benjamin during the draft process.
With the offense working in the red zone, the 6-5 receiver went up between two defenders to grab a pass before falling down into the goal post padding. No one seemed certain if he was in or not, but that hardly mattered.
When asked if a play like that made him excited about Benjamin’s potential, head coach Ron Rivera answered, “I get so jacked up about that. I’m fired up about it.”
T here’s seemingly an update every day on Benjamin’s friendship with quarterback Cam Newton, so here’s your Wednesday report.
After Thursday’s final minicamp practice, most players will head off to different parts of the country to enjoy a month off before training camp. Benjamin won’t be joining them. The rookie plans to stay in Charlotte for some playbook cramming.
“I feel like I have to grow up fast. The team really needs me so that’s what I’m going to do,” Benjamin said.
Newton will also be in Charlotte for most of the month to continue his rehab from offseason ankle surgery.
“I know the two of those guys will be working on developing their rapport which I think is important,” Rivera said. “The more you get to know your teammates, the more you learn to believe in them and trust them.”
S econd-round defensive end Kony Ealy hasn’t had the quickest transition from college to the pros. He hasn’t yet advanced into a rotation with the starters, but the coaches are starting to move him around as they had hoped.
“In all honestly, in the first couple days he looked lost. The last few days he’s looked like he fits in and belongs,” Rivera said. “He’s played everything from the six to the seven, the nine, the five and the three techniques for us and he’s done a great job.”
6 -4, 250 tight end Brandon Williams was very much a project in 2013, but he’s been a noticeable presence the last few weeks.
“(Williams) has come a long way. He’s learned an awful lot, he’s developed an awful lot,” Rivera said. “He’s one of the guys that stayed here year round on his own. He started his workouts early [in] February and he’s been going ever since.”
The Panthers have a good problem with their tight ends right now. All six aren’t going to make the roster, but all are capable. And for what it’s worth, Williams has spent a decent amount of time recently working with the ones in two-tight end sets.
Who’s Back There?
T he return positions are still unclear.
The Panthers haven’t worked much on kickoff return, but Kenjon Barner and Kealoha Pilares have experience. The one time the media has seen a practice that involved kickoff return, Tiquan Underwood was not involved. Despite that, Rivera said he could be.
As far as punt returner goes, “nobody has the edge,” according to Rivera. Pilares, cornerback Antoine Cason and receiver Philly Brown have been back there most of the time, but Brown wasn’t Wednesday.
Cason has returned 16 punts in his NFL career, with 14 of those coming in 2010 while he was in San Diego with Rivera. But it doesn’t sound like the Panthers see him as a full-time option.
“He’s probably that safety guy, that you say ‘We’ve got to get the ball caught.’ You can throw a guy like him out there,” Rivera said.
—The high temperature in Charlotte Wednesday was 93 degrees, the hottest day so far in 2014. With another scorcher expected Thursday, the Panthers moved up the start of their final minicamp practice a half-hour to 9:45 a.m.
–Left tackle is still very much up for grabs. Byron Bell worked the left side, with Nate Chandler playing over on the right Tuesday. The two reversed roles Wednesday.
–Safety Roman Harper returned after missing Tuesday’s practice for the birth of his daughter. Robert Lester played with the starters for most of Wednesday’s practice, but Rivera warned against reading anything into that.
–Linebacker Jason Williams was back after sitting out Tuesday with a sore knee.
–Receiver De’Andre Presley is dealing with a bad case of shin splints. The converted defensive back has impressed coaches in his time at slot receiver, but he’ll still need a big training camp to snag a roster spot.