Benjamin sends message with first TD catch

Kelvin Benjamin has had an impressive training camp and played well in his first NFL game. Grant Halverson/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A seven?

On a scale of 1-10, that's what Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin rated his 29-yard touchdown catch during Friday night's preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Seriously? It was at least a nine, which is what fellow wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery gave it. Were it in a game that mattered it would have gotten a 9.5. Were it in a playoff game it would have gotten a 10.

Maybe an 11.

The coordination it took for the 6-foot-5, 240-pound phenom out of Florida State to gather himself after stepping on the heel of cornerback Stephen Gilmore and stumbling before making the catch while going to the ground was unbelievable.

Benjamin made it sound routine.

"I mean, it really was a normal catch other than me stumbling,'' he said after the 20-18 loss.

Yep, pretty routine.

"I don't know how he tracked the ball at that point and time,'' Cotchery said. "It was a great catch, and [Derek Anderson] did a great job of putting the ball up there and giving him time to react to it."

This is why the Panthers won't miss Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was released in March. In Benjamin, they have a true No. 1 receiver that Smith wasn't going to be at 35 years old. They have a dynamic player that makes difficult plays look easy.

At least to him.

Asked what he gave the 14-yard touchdown catch in last year's ACC championship, he smiled and said, "I give it about a five.''

Asked what he gave the leaping, over-the-middle, game-winning 2-yard touchdown catch with 13 seconds remaining in FSU's 34-31 victory over Auburn for the BCS Championship, he smiled again and said, "That was easy, man. That was about a two.''

I can't wait to see what Benjamin calls a 10. Coach Ron Rivera probably can't, either.

"I thought it was disappointing at first when I saw him trip because he had the step,'' Rivera said of Friday's touchdown. "But when he was able to gather himself and make the play, that's the kind of thing he does.''

Benjamin has made so many spectacular catches since arriving as the 28th pick of the draft that Carolina coaches and teammates have come to expect it. It was almost news when he dropped his first pass of training camp in team drills on Thursday.

But the catch he made on Friday -- in the first game where he faced an NFL defense other than his own -- is special even if it was during a meaningless game. It let those that saw it in person and those that saw it on highlights know Carolina still has a weapon at wide receiver even though Smith is wearing a Baltimore uniform.

Quarterback Cam Newton, who was held out as he continues to strengthen his left ankle that underwent surgery in March, can't wait until he's turned loose to throw to Benjamin in a game.

"Oh, Benji, man, words can't explain,'' Newton said. "I've seen so much growth, so much progress, and will continue to see progress.''

After the touchdown, Newton was one of the first to greet the player he calls his little big brother.

" 'That's what I'm talking about, Smoo,''' Benjamin said when asked what Newton told him. "I don't know what it means, but that's what he said.''

Newton wasn't willing to explain.

"The world will never know,'' he said.

Perhaps, but the world got a taste of what Smoo is capable of on this night.

"At the end of the day I'm just going to get everything,'' Benjamin said. "I'm holding myself to a high standard to catch everything ''