Carolina Panthers

Panthers cautiously bring receiver Kelvin Benjamin back from knee injury

Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin glances at the scoreboard during Thursday night’s preseason exhibition at Baltimore.The game marked the return of Benjamin, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Carolina Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin glances at the scoreboard during Thursday night’s preseason exhibition at Baltimore.The game marked the return of Benjamin, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Panthers have said they’ll be smart about bringing receiver Kelvin Benjamin back into the fold a year after his ACL tear.

Part of that is not risking further injury to the knee. And the other part is that Benjamin isn’t conditioned well enough to take on a full load in training camp.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera is having to balancing not getting Benjamin too many reps in the preseason while worrying also about Benjamin’s conditioning.

“That’s exactly one of the more important things,” Rivera said after a hot practice Saturday afternoon. “That’s one of the things that we’ll start increasing. You’ll see it more and more of him. We want to get him to the point where he can go four, five, six plays in a row as we start getting ready for the opener.

“We’d like to see his reps increase, and by the time we’re done (with the preseason) we’d like to see him get 30-35 reps and we’ll see what happens.”

Thirty to 35 reps is an objectively low number for any team’s starting No. 1 receiver. In 2014, Benjamin averaged more than 57 snaps per game and was on the field for more than 83 percent of all of Carolina’s offensive plays.

He played in eight of the first-team offense’s 13 snaps on Thursday in an exhibition against the Ravens and caught one pass for 5 yards.

Benjamin, who’s had issues with conditioning at Florida State and in his first season with the Panthers, still appears to get winded after one or two long routes, and the Panthers are mindful of that in practice.

“We’ve tried to follow the plan and in tune and in sync with things,” Rivera said. “You see the eagerness by him to do more and more, but we’ve got to make sure he can do that.”

Jonathan Jones: 704-358-5323, @jjones9

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