Benjamin quickly re-establishing spot as Panthers No. 1 WR
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) It's pretty clear Kelvin Benjamin has firmly re-established himself as the Carolina Panthers' No. 1 wide receiver with a wide array of big-time, circus-like catches in the first week of training camp.
Not that it matters much to Benjamin, who'd just assume blend back into the offense without much fanfare.
''You be a team guy,'' Benjamin said of his approach this season. ''Most teams with that No. 1 receiver who is getting all of the balls, they don't have a chance to go to the Super Bowl. But it's all about going to the Super Bowl here.''
Those unselfish words don't surprise offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who said Benjamin has ''a lot of blue collar in him'' and whose primary motivation is winning games.
Benjamin stormed on the scene as a rookie in 2014, quickly establishing himself as Cam Newton's favorite option in training camp. He went on to set franchise rookie records with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound former Florida State star appeared set for a big season in 2015 before a torn ACL in training camp ended his season.
That forced Newton to adjust and spread the ball around more. Nine different receivers had at least 10 receptions last season. Eight caught a touchdown pass from the league MVP.
There has been chatter of whether Benjamin's return might force Newton to re-establish a lock on him as he did two years ago.
But fifth-year coach Ron Rivera doesn't see that happening. He said Newton's growth as a quarterback last season won't allow him to take a step back.
''I don't think we're going to sit there and see him target Kelvin 20 times a game,'' Rivera said. ''I think he will keep the ball spread around like he did last year.''
Rivera said he expects Newton will target seven to 10 different receivers a game.
''With Kelvin there (in 2014) and Steve (Smith) there the year before, maybe Cam felt like he had to go to either (Pro Bowl tight end) Greg (Olsen) or Kelvin, or Greg or Steve,'' Shula said.
''But with how the other guys stepped up last year, we can move guys around more. Hopefully it will help present more problems for the defense, where they are more conscious about covering multiple guys. And defenses have to worry about the running game as well.''
But if training camp is any indication, Benjamin will be the top targeted receiver.
It's hard to blame Newton when he has an option such as Benjamin running across the field.
In most cases, Newton doesn't have to be completely accurate - he simply needs to throw it up in the general vicinity for Benjamin to make the catch.
''I know he's excited, emotional, a lot of things going through his head right now,'' Newton said, ''but just to see him get the confidence and him to get back in the groove of things'' is good.
Benjamin said it was difficult at times watching from the sideline last season as the Panthers opened the season 14-0. He wanted to be a part of the winning, but despite trying to put on a good face still felt like an outsider at times.
It was even tougher when the Panthers, who finished No. 1 in the league in scoring last season, struggled offensively in a 24-10 loss to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
''I just wanted to go catch a few balls,'' said Benjamin, who watched the game from the sideline in street clothes.
Benjamin said the time away from the game helped him refocus on the importance of his football career.
He's come into the season in better shape physically than he did as a rookie, and is eager to cut down on his mistakes. He dropped 11 passes in 2014 and ran the wrong route a number of times, one of them leading to costly interception late in a Carolina loss.
The 25-year-old Benjamin said he has plenty of room for improvement despite his big numbers in 2014.
''Once you're having a little success and something happens to you, it sits you down and lets you see that something can go wrong just like that,'' Benjamin said.
NOTES: Rivera said defensive end Kony Ealy is in the concussion protocol after getting hit in the head late in practice Friday. He did not practice Saturday. ... Benjamin and defensive end Charles Johnson were given veteran days off on Saturday to recuperate from past injuries.
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