With the completion of the 2014 rookie mini-camp, Panthers nation saw first glimpse of the potential replacement of team legend Steve Smith. With the team cleaning house of four of their top receivers (which included Smith who is the franchise’s leader in every major receiving category), many predicated such turnover at a position which requires such a familiar rapport to be successful could harm the ever improving Cam Newton who showed tremendous growth in his third season.
Losing Smith, Ted Ginn Jr, Brandon LaFell, and Domenik Hixon without signing a splash talent such as the hometown talent Hakeem Nicks who bolted to join up with Andrew Luck original caused concern for Panther nation. Yes, the transition from a familiar set of receivers to ones Cam has no experienced with will initial hurt Newton and the Panther offense. As Newton continues to recover from his ankle surgery, the time missed early on will hurt Cam as he is temporary unavailable to create a passing chemistry with the free agent additions Jericho Cotchery, Jason Avant, and Tiquain Underwood (who as a trio have not recorded a 1,000 yard season since Cotchery at 27 years of age accomplished the feat in 2007).
However, Newton still has a security blanket in tight end Greg Olsen who recorded the most receiving yards and receptions for Carolina last season, not Smith. The addition of proven veterans on the depth chart along with the return of Olsen certainly helps Newton who is recovering from surgery. With concern in Carolina over the receivers lost, look for first round pick Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State to immediately be put through the fires of professional football. And as early reports have stated, it looks as Benjamin will be ready to go through the flames.
Former Panther and current wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl on seeing the 6-5 240 pound Benjamin stated he was
“I was in awe to be honest with you” when he watched the former Seminole’s workout prior to the draft. General Manager Dave Gettleman, who received criticism for the manner he displayed with fan favorite Smith and his departure from the team, has the Super Bowl rings from New York to demonstrate that as a scout and a leader in personnel decisions, has shown to make correct roster decisions. A witness to the success that a big, sure-handed receiver can bring to a team , Gettleman is confident the first round pick will immediately produce success on the field. Praising the athletic talents of Benjamin, Gettleman compared the Seminole product to the talents of Plaxico Burress when viewing the rookie in mini-camp.
While Panther nation will surely miss their greatest player in franchise history who departed to Baltimore, all early sighs point to Benjamin being a young receiver who will make a large impact for Carolina. Gettleman, though could had made the decision to release Smith more ceremonious for the heart of the franchise, seemed confident enough in his evaluations of the receiving talent to let go of “Smitty.” In early camp, perhaps Gettleman’s risky decision will pay off as the skill demonstrated by Benjamin certainly seem to have front office officials and coaches enamored with the first round pick.
However, a September 7 match-up against Tampa Bay, Panthers nation will then have the chance to begin their evaluation not only of Benjamin, but GM Gettleman who released the greatest receiver in Panthers history.