SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Kelvin Benjamin leaned back in the passenger seat of a golf cart after the conclusion of a morning training camp practice in August, his legs stretched out in front of him for all to see. The cart drove toward Panthers fans eagerly awaiting autographs at the edge of the practice field, where dozens of kids screamed, “Kelvin! Kelvin!” But the cart didn't slow down; the third-year receiver was scheduled to ice up in the training room at Wofford College. But Carolina kids should understand why his health is the main priority this season. He spent all of 2015 rehabbing a torn left ACL. Benjamin took a break afterward to sit down with The MMQB and talk about his season on the sideline, why he won't wear a knee brace, and his ultimate desire: getting a ring.
KAHLER: When your team reached the Super Bowl without you last season, how were you feeling?
BENJAMIN: It was kind of miserable that I couldn’t be a part of that winning streak, but at the same time I was excited, because the guys were on a winning streak.
KAHLER: Maybe a weird question, but was part of you secretly relieved that they didn’t win the Super Bowl without you?
BENJAMIN: Early on in my injury, I think I would have felt that way, but once we got to the Super Bowl, I’m like, I want a ring! I wanted a ring. I had a great experience just being with the guys and seeing how they paraded them that whole week up until the Super Bowl. It was amazing; I just really wanted a Super Bowl ring.
KAHLER: You weren’t in the team photo before last season began and you didn’t attend any receivers meetings throughout the season. Why?
BENJAMIN: There was so much going around in the media and social media about how we didn’t have any receivers. And us as players and us as human beings, we are on social media and we see those things. So I wanted to separate myself from that because I didn’t want the guys to feel a certain way about me still being around. I wanted them to have completely clear heads and focus on playing ball.
KAHLER: You tore your left ACL last August 19. How long did you wallow?
BENJAMIN: Hmmm, maybe a week? After a week I got a call from [GM Dave] Gettleman and he was just like, It’s time to get up. You had your week off, you had your week of moping, but now it’s time to go.
KAHLER: How did you stay connected to the team last year?
BENJAMIN: I’m close with Cam [Newton] and Joe [Webb]. They came to see me a lot. But really I just tried to separate myself because I didn’t want the guys to focus on me. I wanted them to focus on becoming the Number 1 receiving corps.
“I won’t wear a knee brace because it will be on my mind that this knee has a brace on it, so I better be careful. And I don’t want to treat it like that; I want to treat it like a regular knee and trust the work that I put in.”
KAHLER: How does it feel to be back?
BENJAMIN: I don’t take anything for granted. Once I get tired, I just keep going, because it can be taken away from you that fast.
KAHLER: When are you going to know that you are truly back and fully recovered?
BENJAMIN: I think once the season starts and I play in my first game. I think after that it is just a train and it’s on the train track and it’s just going and I think you don’t think about it no more.
KAHLER: There were a lot of fans screaming for you at the practice I saw. Is that something you missed? What did you miss the most?
BENJAMIN: I think just being with the guys, it is a brotherhood. We have so much fun since we are around each other so much. I think just being with the guys on the team is what I miss the most.
KAHLER: You have a chip on your shoulder from being injured, and this team has a chip on its shoulder from losing the Super Bowl. Are you doubly motivated?
BENJAMIN: I can’t even explain that. I am holding myself to high standards; I am holding this team to high standards. Every day is a challenge because every day I am building confidence and every day I am building that edge to separate myself from all the other guys, because everybody is still competing for a job and I just want to come back and establish my role on the team.
KAHLER: It’s been over a year since you last played with Cam. Do you see anything different in your quarterback?
BENJAMIN: His motivation to get back to the Super Bowl, I think that is what he really wants for the team—and Cam is a team guy. He’s the big superstar that he is, but he’s still the same Cam.
KAHLER: Why won’t you wear a knee brace?
BENJAMIN: I won’t wear a knee brace because I feel like once I wear that knee brace, it will be in my mind—and it will be on my mind that this knee has a brace on it, so I better be careful. And I don’t want to treat it like that; I want to treat it like a regular knee and trust the work that I put in.
KAHLER: What physically was the worst part of your injury?
BENJAMIN: It was just really trying to get your extension and your flexion back. That was the tough part, because they are constantly leaning on your knee to straighten it out and bending it to break apart the scar tissue. That was the most painful thing I ever did in my life.
• Question? Comment? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org