- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- It happens all the time. A kid goes to summer camp and runs into somebody he hits it off with from the get-go. They become best buddies, inseparable.
That's the image I got recently as Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin sat across from each other at lunch. Nobody else was at the table. They were so engaged in conversation it was like nobody else in the noisy room existed.
It's the same way during practice. They're almost always side by side during stretching. They're often side by side when the second, third and fourth teams are running drills.
At times it seems the only time they separate is when Benjamin is running a route, and more times than not he's seemingly on the other end of a Newton pass.
"What? Benji?'' Newton said on Thursday when asked about his relationship with Carolina's first-round draft pick. "Who's that guy?''
"I've only got one beef with Benji, and he knows it and I'm pretty sure y'all know it," said Newton, referring to Benjamin catching the winning touchdown for Florida State in this past year's BCS National Championship against his beloved Auburn.
"I have to remind him, every single thing that he won in college, I won too.''
Newton actually won more. He got the Heisman Trophy in 2010, the year he led Auburn to an undefeated season and the national championship. Benjamin didn't.
But the bond these two have formed on and off the field obviously is special. It's one Newton never had with Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was released during the offseason.
It's one they hope eventually puts the Newton-Benjamin combination in the same stratosphere as Young-Rice, Manning-Harrison or Aikman-Irving.
Asked if Benjamin could become a superstar, Newton seemed almost offended: "I don't hope for anything. I don't hope that he catches it. I expect him to catch it."
Benjamin caught every pass thrown to him in team drills through the first 11 practices. He finally dropped one on Thursday -- from third-stringer Joe Webb while Newton was getting treatment on his left ankle that was surgically repaired in March.
Newton didn't see the drop, but surely would have given Benjamin an earful if he had. He still might.
"I'm telling you, we've got that unique relationship that we hold each other to a standard,'' Newton said. "It's funny that when we first started talking, I didn't know Kelvin Benjamin from ... doggone Ronald McDonald."
But the moment they first talked on the phone, Newton said, "There was just that connection."
As Newton described the conversation, he tried to imitate Benjamin's voice that is a few octaves higher than his. He recalled that Benjamin phoned not only to introduce himself, but to say the NFL was "tripping" because it wouldn't let him have the No. 1 jersey he wore at FSU.
"I said, 'Well, you've got two problems,'" said Newton, who wears No. 1. "First, you've got the league to worry about to get No. 1 and you've got me to worry about to get No. 1.'"
Benjamin chose No. 13, the No. 1 for his time at FSU and the No. 3 he wore in high school.
Newton would like to establish the No. 1 to No. 13 combination in Friday's preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills. He's preparing as though he will play, although coach Ron Rivera isn't sure it's worth risking reinjuring the ankle.
If Newton sits, there'll be plenty of time to hook up with Benjamin for real. The relationship and chemistry they've forged off the field and during practice has to help.
"He's my little big brother," Newton said. "And for so many reasons, I'm helping him and he's helping me. I'm trying to tell him, 'Look, I know what you're about to go through. This is the best time in your life. Appreciate it. When you come out on this field, love it .... God has blessed you with having physical specimen-like features, and shame on you if you don't use those to the best of your ability.'"
Newton (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and Benjamin (6-5, 240) both are physical specimens. Maybe that's why they stand out like two buddies in camp when next to each other.
But the ultimate goal is to stand out in games.
"That's my big thing, trying to groom and shape him as well as we make each other better," Newton said. "We respect each other enough to be able kick it with each other, but also push each other to be great."