Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin missing ‘memories these guys will always have’

Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin is off crutches and moving around well, and the hope is he’ll be able to start running by the first of the year.

Benjamin tore his ACL on Aug. 19 in training camp and was placed on season-ending injured reserve, but he’s still been a constant presence in the Carolina Panthers’ locker room.

“It hurts because I’m not there,” said Benjamin, who cannot play this season no matter how deep Carolina goes in the playoffs. “It’s memories, especially them being undefeated. Going through an undefeated season is just fun. These are memories these guys will always have. It’s just fun. They know I’m back here working behind the scenes to get better.”

Last year Benjamin had 1,008 receiving yards in his rookie season and was primed for an even bigger sophomore campaign. But the knee injury during a joint practice with the Dolphins ended his season before it got started.

It made Carolina’s receiving group look pedestrian, and Panthers coach Ron Rivera thinks that may have helped the team.

“I think early on in the season some took our guys for granted and they were able to step up and make plays,” Rivera said. “Now they have people’s attention and they’ve got to focus on us completely and that’s helping us as a team. You’ve got to respect your ability to run and you’ve got to honor our passing game because our guys have some speed, and we have some guys who are making some clutch catches for us as well.”

Benjamin still gives some pointers to the receivers, including rookie Devin Funchess, but he’s not in a lot of the meetings. Benjamin is usually rehabbing in the training room while practice and meetings are going on.

He didn’t want to get into what the team’s potential could be with him on the field, saying he didn’t “want to put myself above the team.” But Rivera has admitted he’s thought about what could have been.

“I’m very pleased, obviously, with what we’re doing on the offensive side in the red zone,” Rivera said. “And the what if, you could only imagine what the potential might be if Kelvin had stayed healthy.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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