Saturday, May 17, 2014
Benjamin quickly impressing Panthers
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's about as easy to pick out the Carolina Panthers' first-round draft pick in rookie minicamp as it is a Thoroughbred in a field full of ponies.
The way he effortlessly glides over the middle.
The way, without leaving the ground, he snatches passes out of thin air that other receivers have to put four to six inches between them and the turf to reach.
The way his long braids flutter in the wind as he distances himself from defensive backs.
It didn't take long for Kelvin Benjamin to wow the Panthers during rookie minicamp. "He's everything we thought he would be," coach Ron Rivera said.
The way his smile shines even under the brightest sunlight.
That he's 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds and wears No. 13 doesn't hurt, either.
"Freak athlete," said second-round pick Kony Ealy, somewhat freakish himself as a 6-4, 273-pound defensive end out of Missouri.
The Panthers made Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin the 28th pick of the draft because of his size, which general manager Dave Gettleman repeatedly has said you can't teach.
They made him their top selection because he can be a big target for quarterback Cam Newton, particularly in the red zone, where the Panthers struggled at times last season.
One only has to remember Benjamin's final catch in college, a 2-yard alley-oop touchdown from quarterback Jameis Winston with 13 seconds left that gave the Seminoles a 34-31 victory over Auburn in the BCS National Championship, to realize how valuable he can be close to the goal line.
“He’s everything we thought he would be,” coach Ron Rivera said. “We’re not in pads. But watching his route running, watching him catch the ball, make the adjustments, track the ball -- all those types of things were really good to see.”
That Benjamin made it look easy Friday and Saturday with a pair of quarterbacks -- Cody Stroud from McNeese State and James Vandenberg from Iowa -- who won't be on the roster once Newton returns from ankle surgery for training camp and the other veterans return for a June minicamp was even more impressive.
Another reason the Panthers like Benjamin so much was that the patterns he ran in college were similar to what he'll run here.
"When they were calling the routes, I was like, ‘Oh, yes, I ran this,’" Benjamin said, flashing his infectious smile. “So I know I can come out of the cuts real fast and real good.”
Benjamin is far from a finished product. He'll have his struggles like all rookies, particularly rookie receivers. But, on two unseasonably cool, sun-splashed days in a camp for draft picks, undrafted rookies and other invitees, it was a good beginning.
Newton definitely is excited to have Benjamin. At a black-tie fundraiser in Charlotte on Friday night, he told The Charlotte Observer he is "very excited about Kelvin Benjamin -- my future target."
Newton said this after dancing on the left ankle about a week after doctors gave him permission to ditch his walking boot.
Benjamin can't wait for Newton to be completely healthy. The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner has been one of Benjamin's favorite players since the Panthers made him the first pick of the 2011 draft.
The two have talked, but their only action for a while will come on a video game.
“He challenged me in Madden,” Benjamin said. “So we’ll probably be playing Madden later on this week.”
And one day, when Carolina's latest first-round pick is added to the game, he might be easy to pick out on that, as well.