Panthers rave over ‘unbelievable’ Kelvin Benjamin

Offseason concerns over ’s conditioning have given way to a hyper-productive preseason that have the Panthers optimistic about their No. 1 wideout.

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Exiting Thursday night’s win over the Jaguars, Cam Newton jersey— who saw his first action of the preseason — raved about Benjamin, who hauled in a 9-yard scoring strike to cap the quarterback’s lone drive of the night.

“Benji has had an unbelievable training camp,” Newton said, per 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.”

Benjamin was dogged during the offseason over worries that he’d grown “a little heavy,” per coach . During the preaseason, though, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder has used his frame to attack cover men with eight catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns in limited work.

“I think Kelvin’s playing very, very physical,” Rivera said. “He’s running really good routes, he’s a great target, and he presents a good target to the quarterback. He’s making the catches and getting upfield. He doesn’t waste a lot of steps once he catches the ball. He knows to get north and south, and he does that very quickly.”

Benjamin’s leap is a much-needed development for Newton, who is winding his way back from shoulder surgery but already looked in sync with his top target against the Jaguars.

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Panthers #1 Cam Newton White Stitched NFL Jersey

Panthers #1 Cam Newton White Stitched Jersey

It’s not a surprise after NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport noted Thursday that Newton was “unlikely” to play this week as he continues to rest his surgically repaired shoulder.

Pelissero tweeted that the 28-year-old passer is “throwing more each day [and] feels fine,” per a source, adding that Newton is “on track” for Carolina’s third preseason affair next week against the Jaguars.

“It certainly seems … that he’s coming out on the correct end of this shoulder surgery,” Rapoport told NFL Network on Thursday, noting that the team believes they’ll finally be through with Newton’s rehab process when he, at last, sees live action.

“You could tell he was rusty,” Rivera said Thursday of his quarterback’s practice work, per ESPN. “A couple late [balls] on the decisions he made. When he was throwing the ball, he was throwing the ball well, so we’re not concerned about that.

“Now it’s just a matter of him working himself back into shape where he can go out and take normal reps instead of us having to make sure we monitor him.”

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That’s always been the goal — one that has led to a cautious and measured approach by the Panthers. While it’s fair to wonder if Newton’s rustiness could extend into September, the club had no choice but take it slow with their most important player.

Newton left Thursday night’s preseason game against the Jaguars after throwing just two passes, both completions, on Carolina’s opening touchdown drive. Newton connected on a dumpoff pass to rookie and a nine-yard slant for a touchdown to Kelvin Benjamin jersey to finish off the drive. The team’s coaching staff didn’t risk any more action for Newton and brought backup Derek Anderson in for the second drive.

Fans will have to wait until the regular season to see if Newton’s arm strength and deep accuracy have been impacted by his surgery, although Thursday night’s action couldn’t have gone much better. and McCaffrey split the first-team work on the drive with four carries each, a potential preview for Carolina’s run-first offense. The Panthers want to give Newton easier throws this  season and the dump-off throw to McCaffrey for 12 yards was a great example.

Considering that Newton only underwent surgery in March and has missed much of camp with a sore shoulder, this appearance should be seen as a huge positive. He should be all systems go for the team’s opener against the 49ers.

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