In 2015, the Carolina Panthers lost the man considered their best wide receiver – Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin went down in training camp and has yet to get all the way back up.
Yet the Panthers had a very good 2015 without him, advancing to the Super Bowl (where they were handled by the Denver Broncos).
The Green Bay Packers also lost their best wide receiver in 2015. Despite the brilliance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay never overcame Jordy Nelson’s absence. I’m not saying that the Benjamin is the player Nelson is. But as his team’s lead wide receiver, his role was similar.
Why were Cam Newton and the Panthers able to overcome the loss of Benjamin? They had speed. They could send Ted Ginn Jr. down one side of the field and Philly Brown down the other. Defenses had to account for them.
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The Panthers went to Ginn and Brown 151 times and completed 75 passes for 14 touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olsen could get open if he lined up in a closet. But with Ginn and Brown often running deep, the middle was open for Olsen, Jerricho Cotchery and Devin Funchess.
Ginn (New Orleans) and Philly Brown (Buffalo) are gone. Both played at Ohio State. So did Curtis Samuel, the rookie who will replace Ginn. He has run a 4.31 40. The Panthers also will use rookie Christian McCaffrey as a receiver as well as a running back.
I liked the McCaffrey pick. I love the Samuel pick. The Panthers took Samuel in the second round. In 2015, you could aim your binoculars at Newton when he put his body into a throw and know Ginn (or Brown) had gone deep and Newton was trying to find him. This season it will be Samuel and, often, McCaffrey, even though McCaffrey did not go to Ohio State.
Newton requires a deep threat to complement and help free Benjamin, especially if Benjamin is as big as everybody thinks. Based on reports, Benjamin beaches up onto the team’s practice facility.
Last season feels like a hangover. Best way to beat a hangover is to sweat out the impurities. That will happen in Spartanburg this summer. Training camp will be compelling.