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The 6-5, 245-pound wide receiver was a machine on those Wofford College practice fields. Each day featured another Benjamin highlight – an acrobatic reception against the sideline, a deep ball behind the secondary, a tough catch in traffic over the middle.
He was the best player on the field — a 24-year-old oozing confidence and emerging as the “lead dog” of the wide receiver group entering his second season.
“I knew coming in I was going to be a leader. I just try to cheap Carolina Panthers jerseys set the tempo, and the guys feed off that energy,” Benjamin said midway through training camp. “I’ve got guys looking up to me now.”
The first preseason game at Buffalo only increased the excitement surrounding Benjamin. It was first-and-goal from the 2-yard line, and Bills cornerback Ronald Darby never really had a chance. Between Benjamin’s size advantage and quarterback Cam Newton’s ball placement, a touchdown on the fade pattern was always going to be the end result.
Benjamin was arguably the brightest star of Carolina’s 46-27 victory over the 49ers, recording seven catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
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“That’s our job – to continue to get our playmakers opportunities,” Shula said. “They rolled to him at times but they also had some one-on-ones. But just because teams roll to a receiver doesn’t mean you still can’t get it to him. We just weren’t good enough yesterday.”
You could hear the urgency in linebacker Thomas Davis’ voice on Thursday. And you can bet teammates will hear it in the visitors’ locker room when the Panthers get ready to face the Saints in the Superdome on Sunday.
Wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr. – Davis’ good friend and former Carolina teammate – recently told the Baltimore media that he’s 89 percent sure Sunday will be his last game after 16 years in the league.
“When you think about Steve’s career and what he’s been able to do in this league, you can’t help but be proud of him,” said Davis, who added he’d like to see Smith retire a Panther. “At the end of the day, he’s faced with the same thing that I got hit with from my daughter. They want daddy home.”
Davis is all too familiar with knee injuries, having suffered three torn anterior cruciate ligaments in a span of three years, each one to his right knee. But he beat the pain – both mental and physical – by relying on remarkable perseverance to become the first NFL player to successfully return from three ACL injuries.
Part of the reason Davis makes it a point to talk to injured athletes is a pay-it-forward mentality. When he suffered his first ACL injury in 2009, he was on the receiving end of empowering messages from other players around the league.