For a guy whose offseason began with a good fat-shaming from his head coach, Kelvin Benjamin‘s preseason has been, well, big.
The Panthers wide receiver caught another touchdown last night, looking again like the guy who topped 1,000 yards as a rookie rather than inconsistent and heavy legged version from last year.
And that kind of performance has definitely been noticed.
“Benji has had an unbelievable training camp,” quarterback Cam Newton said, via Bill Voth of the team’s official website. “I do see growth out of him and we need that growth out of him because he is pretty much the leader of that room.”
When he reported this spring, the only growth was in his waistline, which coach Ron Rivera was first to point out. The Panthers then tried to blame others for the stories (and fat jokes) that followed, but the message was sent, and Benjamin obviously received it, coming to training camp at his target weight after dropping 10 percent of his body weight over the offseason.
Now he’s both catching passes (eight for 107 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason), and learning how to use his size in a productive way.
“He is a complete receiver,” Newton said. “You rarely see premier guys go out and block and be effective in the running game.
“One of those plays early on with [running back Jonathan Stewart], he cut back and it would not have been possible if you didn’t have blocking on the second level. You see Benji on his route and he tries to stick his nose in there and throw a block. It sets the tone for our team.”
And in an offense that lacks reliable downfield targets other than tight end Greg Olsen, having Benjamin back and in shape to perform is a big step for the Panthers.