CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) While Kelvin Benjamin is returning to the Carolina Panthers offense, he may not play as much as he did as a rookie.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday he wants to limit the 6-foot-5, 245-pound wide receiver's snaps to 30-35 per game this season.
That's a dramatic reduction from 2014 when Benjamin averaged 57.8 snaps per game as a rookie and played 83.8 percent of the offensive plays. Benjamin finished with a franchise rookie record 1,008 yards on 73 receptions and nine touchdowns.
He missed all of last season with a torn ACL.
Rivera said Benjamin's injury and the development of other players in the passing game are contributing factors to reducing his playing time. Benjamin is still rounding into football shape and Rivera doesn't want to push him too hard.
The Panthers open the season Thursday night against the Denver Broncos in a rematch of last year's Super Bowl.
Rivera did leave some room for flexibility in Benjamin's playing time, although it was clear he doesn't want him playing anywhere near 57 snaps per game.
''If he plays more (than 35 snaps) then great - that means his conditioning is where it needs to be,'' Rivera said. ''The biggest thing with Kelvin is he has to get back in football shape. His conditioning has been good and he has done the extra stuff he has needed to. But it's a different thing when you are playing a game and people are pushing and pulling and tugging at you while you're running six or seven routes in a row.''
Rivera said with the emergence of wide receivers like Devin Funchess, Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown, along with the steady influence of Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, he'd like to see quarterback Cam Newton spread the ball around more as he did last season.
''We have so many weapons out there in terms of the other receivers,'' Rivera said. ''Obviously if he plays that much, somebody else isn't playing. With the guys that we have and the different personalities and abilities that they have I think it's a good idea to mix it up and keep everybody close to the same numbers.''
Rivera said he'd like all of his receivers to play between 25-35 snaps.
Benjamin said he feels like he can handle more than 35 snaps per game, but he'll do whatever the coaches ask of him.
''I think they did a good job with bringing me back slowly,'' Benjamin said Tuesday. ''Like they say it's not a sprint, it's a marathon. I like how I'm feeling right now. I feel like I could play more. We'll see. It may be more than'' 35 snaps.
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