Panthers' Shula: It may take 'committee' to replace Benjamin
While Shula says it's a major loss, he points out the Panthers still have plenty of offensive talent even with Benjamin sidelined with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Shula said the Panthers will likely replace Benjamin's production at wide receiver ''by committee,'' but is quick to add ''eventually there might be a guy that emerges'' into that No. 1 role.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin set Carolina rookie franchise records last season with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, so he will be missed. Shula pointed to Corey Brown, rookie Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr. as guys who are capable of filling that void at wide receiver - although the starting lineup hasn't been settled.
Brown and Ginn are considered speed guys with big play ability, while Funchess is more of a possession receiver.
Brown was an undrafted rookie out of Ohio State who emerged late in the season before suffering an injury. Ginn had one of his most productive seasons two years ago for the Panthers before signing with Arizona last season and then returning to Carolina this year.
Funchess is the team's second-round draft pick out of Michigan State, a smaller version of Benjamin who hasn't shown as much flash as his predecessor in the training camp. He's been limited with a strained hamstring, but finally returned to practice Wednesday and could see action Friday night against the New England Patriots.
Shula seems particularly intrigued by Brown, who went by the nickname ''Philly'' last year before changing back to Corey this past season.
''With Corey, we still don't know how good he can be,'' Shula said. ''He was ascending at the end of last season.''
Brown said he's ready for the challenge.
''This is a huge loss, but we know he's going to come back bigger, faster and stronger - and we as receivers are going to play this year for him,'' Brown said.
Shula said he'll rely on help from other positions to fill Benjamin's void.
The Panthers still have one of the NFL's most versatile and dangerous quarterbacks in Cam Newton, a Pro Bowl tight end in Greg Olsen and a powerful running back in Jonathan Stewart who can grind out 100-yard games on a regular basis.
The bottom line is this: Shula doesn't think the Benjamin loss will require him to revamp the team's offensive scheme.
''Not as much as you think, probably,'' Shula said. ''There are certain things that Kelvin did better than other guys, but there are certain things the guys we have now are going to do just as well as Kelvin, but in a different way. So that is what we have to look at and try to maximize the talent of each one of our guys when they're in there.''
''Everybody is going to take some of the slack and do their job,'' Newton said after Carolina' 31-30 win over Miami on Saturday night.
Carolina's first-team offense has struggled in two preseason games so far with the only touchdown in seven possessions - that coming on a fade route from Newton to Benjamin in the preseason opener at Buffalo.
''There is no need to sulk about it,'' Newton said. ''There is no need to cry about it now. When I went to see him, and I still talk to him daily, he's in good spirits. Every time I text him, every time I call him, he's always, `Go out there and do your thing. Lead them boys.' When I hear that from him, that kind of puts it in perspective.''
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