For a big guy like Kelvin Benjamin, it’s the small things he needs to refine.
Benjamin, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound rookie receiver, has wowed in his first two NFL games with a one-handed sideline catch and a touchdown reception behind a defender’s back.
But he has also left much to be desired when Derek Anderson or Cam Newton hasn’t looked his way. Benjamin’s growing pains include running out routes, blocking downfield and, after Sunday, drops.
“They’re little small things, different details that he’s got to get better at,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Understanding that when I’m not the primary (receiver), I still run out my routes. If the ball is running away from me, I’m running downfield and get in the safety’s way. Those are things he’ll learn you have to be really good at those all the time.”
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Benjamin had six catches for a game-high 92 yards against Tampa Bay in Week 1, but Carolina’s coaches graded him out at 70 out of 100 for the game.
In the first quarter of the game, DeAngelo Williams rushed to the left side. Benjamin engaged cornerback Mike Jenkins in a block, but just as Williams came up behind Benjamin to use the block, Benjamin released Jenkins. The receiver stood there without someone to block as Williams went to the ground.
Later in the game, Benjamin was supposed to bend in on a post route that would have resulted in a 20-plus yard completion. Instead, Benjamin kept running and Anderson’s pass fell incomplete.
Fantasy football owners may have been pleased with Benjamin’s performance against the Bucs, but “team-wise they weren’t,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s all about the team.”
Last Sunday against Detroit, Benjamin got a refrigerator-worthy grade of 93. He only had two catches for 46 yards, but the coaches liked his blocking more as the Lions used more double coverage on the rookie than the Buccaneers had.
But there was an old issue that returned to Benjamin against the Lions—drops. Last year at Florida State, Benjamin had a high drop rate of 9 percent. He didn’t have a drop in team drills of training camp until the final two days of camp.
He said Monday he had two drops against the Lions, but Pro Football Focus and an Observer film review credited Benjamin with three.
Benjamin couldn’t put his finger on what the problem was.
“Just didn’t really pull them in, I guess,” Benjamin said. “I don’t really think it’s focus. I just didn’t pull them in. They’re just drops. I got to come back and get better from it and move on. Come back this week and not drop anything.”
In Tampa, Benjamin had four catches for 62 yards in the first half. But against Detroit, he only had one catch for 22 yards, and he intimated that not getting as involved early may have led to the second-half drops.
Benjamin’s first drop came late in the third quarter when Newton’s pass was slightly behind Benjamin but catchable. He had another drop on Carolina’s ensuing series in the fourth quarter.
And when Newton went back to Benjamin after a Detroit turnover, the receiver dropped an easy catch on a slant route that had Newton clapping his hands to encourage Benjamin after the play.
“Those aren’t the only mistakes,” Rivera said. “He made some other mistakes, but he also made some really big plays and did some really good things.”
After Benjamin’s final drop, Newton went back to his young target on the next play. Benjamin ran down the field, stutter-stepped to shake cornerback Rashean Mathis and hauled in Newton’s pass with his right hand for a 24-yard completion.
“It just shows the relationship between us and the trust,” Benjamin said. “I rarely drop balls. I hold myself to a high standard, so I was really down on those drops. I just have to move on from them.”
Backfield help: With injuries at the running back, the Panthers added rookie running back Lache Seastrunk to their practice squad Tuesday.
Seastrunk, a sixth-round pick out of Baylor, was cut by Washington last month. The team did not sign him to its practice squad, and he’s been looking for work through the first two weeks of the season.
At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Seastrunk is a compact back who has drawn comparisons to Philadelphia running back Darren Sproles. Seastrunk has big-play ability but struggles in pass protection.
Seastrunk was a first-team all-conference player at Baylor last year after transferring from Oregon.
Carolina’s No. 4 running back Fozzy Whittaker is week-to-week with a quad injury, and the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, DeAngelo Williams, is expected to practice Wednesday. Seastrunk joins Darrin Reaves as the two running backs on the team’s practice squad.
King signed away: The Jaguars signed Tavarres King off the Panthers’ practice squad on Tuesday.
The Panthers claimed King off waivers from the Broncos in October. He was on the 53-man roster for 10 games last season but was inactive for all of them.
He was the odd man out in the receiving group when Carolina made final cuts last month, but he went unclaimed on the waiver wire and the Panthers stashed him on the practice squad.
King, a 6-foot-1 receiver from Georgia, was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft by Denver. He has yet to log a regular-season catch.