It’s a Friday night, week one of the preseason. The second quarter has just begun.
Although star QB Cam Newton is standing on the sidelines, excitement is high in Charlotte. The people of the Queen City are hungry for some football, which has been longed for after a short-lived, but promising playoff berth. Exhibition or not, the stadium exuberates the feel of a regular season match-up.
Back-up QB Derek Anderson takes the snap, scans the field, and finds a mammoth of a player sprinting down the field with his man beat. He guns it with power. The intended receiver stumbles, falls towards the ground, but never keeps his eye off of the ball.
A military crawl is necessary, as the pigskin finds it’s home in a pair of Panthers blue gloves.
Kelvin Benjamin has just caught the first touchdown of his rookie career. The crowd roars, as disbelief is converted into pandaemonium in Bank of America Stadium.
With a reliable pair of hands, and superb concentration, Benjamin has put his physical tools on full display. Tools that everyone said he would never have.
Everyone was wrong.
Benjamin seems to have left his glaring issues back at Florida State University. This is not the same player. This is not the same man.
The 23 year-old’s transformation became apparent at Wofford College, the Panthers annual home for their training camp sessions. Up until Thursday, Benjamin hadn’t dropped a single ball.
For a rookie receiver to show such consistency, everyone was impressed. For a rookie that had major issues with drops in college, everyone was blown out of the water.
And the water must’ve been terribly cold, because instantly, everyone was hopping aboard the Kelvin Benjamin ship. He was by far the most impressive Panther in camp, and hype for a player hadn’t been so high in Charlotte since the rookie days of Cam Newton.
Coincidentally, the two are a lot alike. Both are 6’5″, 240 and some change, and they also share a similar characteristic: electric play-making ability.
Although Newton didn’t have the opportunity to display his improved mechanics and intelligence, Benjamin took full advantage to show-off his skill-set. There hasn’t been a receiver for years in Carolina that could’ve made the touchdown catch that #13 did. In fact, I’m not sure there ever HAS been.
Benjamin’s show-stopping endzone catch wasn’t the only promising skill he showed, either. He was the best run-blocking receiver out there by far, and his ability to man-handle Stephon Gilmore (one of the better cornerbacks in the league) was intriguing to watch.
For the rookie receiver, it was a simple task: Keep your eyes on the ball, and play to your best.
For the fans in Carolina, it was a magical sight and a sign of things to come. It may just be preseason, but Benjamin has been promising since he was drafted, and with regular season just weeks away, everyone is on the edge of their seats to see what he can do.
It’s time to welcome the new Cat in Charlotte. Here’s to the future, Mr. Benjamin.