In the past two days, rookie cornerback Bene’ Benwikere has made more plays than any other defensive back for the Carolina Panthers.
Benwikere had a interception return for a touchdown on Thursday, and Friday he totaled two interceptions and three pass breakups for his biggest day at training camp.
After one interception, safety Thomas DeCoud shouted “Big-play Bene.’ ”
“Bene’ had a good day,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He made some things happen. He’s one of those young guys that catches your eye when they go out and make plays you see those things. It was a good day for him and some good things all around.”
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The Panthers drafted Benwikere in the fifth round of May’s draft after trading a seventh-round pick to move up 20 spots and get their guy with the 148th selection.
Benwikere, at 6-foot and 185 pounds, was a ballhawk at San Jose State, where he was a two-time all-conference player who racked up 12 interceptions in his final two seasons.
After the draft and again on Friday, Rivera likened Benwikere to Nate Vasher, who played for Rivera when he was a defensive coordinator in Chicago. Vasher, at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, had 13 interceptions in his first two seasons and went to the Pro Bowl in his second year.
Rivera said he has seen Benwikere improve since rookie camp, but he’s not surprised with the production at camp.
“The truth of the matter is Bene’ is kind of who we thought he is,” Rivera said. “He has great vision, he plays with eyes on the ball. When you do that you can have opportunities to make plays. He has a natural feel for that.”
Benwikere said the first interception was all coaching. Defensive backs coach Steve Wilks had been working with the secondary about playing certain techniques on the curl, flat and drop, and when Benwikere realized his man was trying to widen him on a seam, he got the call and slipped underneath for the interception.
The second interception came on a Derek Anderson pass intended for Marvin McNutt and picked it off.
Benwikere is competing with veteran Charles Godfrey for the starting nickel spot. Godfrey has gotten reps at nickel and cornerback while Benwikere has been primarily a nickel.
“I know it’s a competition,” Benwikere said. “I don’t want to say it’s a win or lose deal. Godfrey has game experience over me and that’s one thing I understand is just working every day that I can to understand the rest of the defense.”
Rivera wasn’t ready to say Benwikere is an every-down corner, but he likes the development he’s seen so far.
“We’ll see once we get the pads on and playing against an opponent as opposed to guys out here,” Rivera said. “We’ll see what happens, but I think he has an opportunity most certainly to be a contributor.”