In a summer full of questions about the Carolina Panthers’ receivers, the position group will be without its brightest star for the near future.
An MRI on Monday revealed rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin has a bruised left knee and is expected to be out of practice for a timetable measured in days rather than weeks.
Benjamin suffered the injury during Sunday afternoon’s practice, on knee-to-knee contact. He finished practice but had his knee wrapped that evening.
Monday morning he went to the training room to get treatment for his knee, and the decision was made in concert with head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion to take Benjamin back to Charlotte to get an MRI.
“We had a bit of good news. Again it was more of a bone bruise more so than anything else. It’s stable. Everything’s fine. Nothing structurally wrong, but it is bruised,” coach Ron Rivera said. “There is a little swelling – we refer to it as a hot spot where it is sore – so really it’s just a matter of us getting the bone to calm down, get the swelling out and get him back on the practice field in a matter of time.”
Rivera stressed there’s no timetable for Benjamin’s return, but he indicated the rookie should return before the end of camp Aug. 12.
“It could be a few days, but it would not be fair to give you a time frame because they really didn’t give me one,” Rivera said. “It’s going to be a few days before the swelling’s out and that area has calmed down, and then back onto the field in a matter of time.”
The Panthers drafted Benjamin with the 28th overall selection in May. He scored 15 touchdowns for Florida State, leading the ACC last year, including the winning score in the BCS National Championship Game.
Carolina drafted the Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, with hopes his big-play ability would translate to the NFL. His route-running skills were criticized before the draft, but teammates and coaches have praised the rookie for how crisp his routes have been.
He said this month he needs to work most on the routes that require him to come back to the ball because his size doesn’t allow for his hips to move as quickly as he’d like.
So far, Benjamin had looked the part of a star receiver. He hasn’t dropped a pass in team drills since camp started last week. He has been running with the first-team offense throughout training camp, with Jerricho Cotchery as the other first-team receiver.
“Young guys need as many reps as they can get,” Rivera said. “There’s a saying where if you get 5,000 reps, you’re ready to play. We want to get him as many as we can.
“He’s had a great camp. He came in tip-top shape, ready to roll. He was one of those guys that spent time with Cam (Newton) working out.”
Jason Avant moved up to first-team offense Monday. It’s likely the team will use several players with the first team to get a better look at one of the most contested positions on the field.
There are 12 receivers on the roster, and Carolina is expected to keep no more than six on the final 53-man roster. Benjamin, Cotchery and Avant are considered the only locks at this point.