SPARTANBURG Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin got his first injury scare out of the way early at his first NFL training camp.
Benjamin said he felt like “a new man” Tuesday morning, two days after sustaining a bone bruise that required a trip to Charlotte for an MRI onMonday morning.
The MRI showed no structural damage. And while the Panthers still have not set a timetable for Benjamin’s return, the first-round pick from Florida State referred to the injury as a minor setback and said he expects to play in preseason games next month.
“I’m coming back even harder, 10 times harder,” Benjamin said. “I’m getting a lot of treatment, just get better.”
Benjamin was in the midst of a good start in his first camp, going up high to snare several of Cam Newton’s passes during the opening practices.
During Sunday’s practice at Wofford, Benjamin caught a pass over the middle and collided with cornerback Charles Godfrey. Panthers coach Ron Rivera thought Benjamin and Godfrey bumped knees.
But Benjamin said the injury occurred when his left knee slammed into the ground. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, that’s a lot of gravitational force.
Benjamin finished the practice and iced the knee after trainers looked at it. But when the knee stiffened overnight, head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion ordered the MRI.
Benjamin, the 28th overall pick in the May draft, admitted being a little nervous at that point.
“Definitely,” he said. “You’re always (afraid you’re) going to end up getting bad news at an MRI.”
But the news was good, considering some of the alternatives.
Bert Mandelbaum, an orthopedic surgeon at the Institute for Sports Sciences in Los Angeles, said recovery times from bone bruises to the knee vary depending on the severity.
Mandelbaum, who is spearheading research for the NFL to help prevent ACL injuries, said bruises affecting both the bone and cartilage around the knee are the most sensitive and can take several weeks to heal. If it’s just a bruise to the bone, players could be back in a few days, according to Mandelbaum.
“A lot of it depends on understanding what the mechanism of the injury was. Was it a full-field collision where two players run in at 4.4 (seconds in a 40-yard dash) and they’re hitting each other? Or is it an around-the-end type of collision?” Mandelbaum said. “The energy of those collisions and the resulting bone bruise have very different prognoses.”
Mandelbaum said beyond resting and icing the knee, there aren’t a lot of treatment options for a bone bruise.
The Panthers plan to take a cautious approach with a player they drafted with the hope he’ll become their No. 1 receiver for years to come.
Benjamin spent Tuesday morning’s practice riding the exercise bike and shadowing Newton and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey. Trainers later taped a bag of ice to his knee.
Rivera indicated that would be the routine for the immediate future.
The Panthers are off Wednesday before resuming drills Thursday at 9:25 a.m.
“What we’re going to do is continue what he did (Tuesday). He’ll do stuff on the bike. He’ll do a lot of non weight-bearing things on the knee. We’ll do those types of things with him,” Rivera said. “We’ll see. We will re-evaluate (Wednesday) morning.”
Benjamin, who said he’s never had a major knee injury, said he won’t rush his return.
“I think they just want to take their time on it,” he said. “I woke up (Tuesday) morning like a new man. I was telling them it feels way better. But they were still telling me still take your time with it.”
With Benjamin out, Marvin McNutt joined free-agent acquisitions Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery for the first-team reps Tuesday, although the Panthers rotated other receivers, too.
Setbacks but staying positive
Benjamin had a knack for making big plays last season for Florida State. He led the ACC with 15 receiving touchdowns and pulled down the game-winning touchdown in the Seminoles’ victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
Benjamin, who’s from Belle Glade, Fla., knows he has a great opportunity with the Panthers needing to replace their top four wideouts from last season.
He was asked whether he expects to be the No. 1 receiver as a rookie.
“I leave that up to the coaches. I just need to go out there and keep making plays and being consistent as a wide receiver,” Benjamin said. “Just keep doing my job and hopefully that will be the result.”
Despite his injury and the missed practices, Benjamin said he’s enjoying his first experience in Spartanburg.
“I like it here, man,” Benjamin said, smiling widely. “It’s got that Florida heat to it. So I like it.”
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