Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer reported yesterday that the Kelvin Benjamin MRI revealed that he had only suffered a knee bruise. He will miss some time, but it is a far better outcome than it could have been.
The Panthers off-season has already had its share of twists and turns. The biggest surprises were brought when the last two links to the 2003 Super Bowl run left the Panthers. Jordan Gross retired and Steve Smith was shopped and then traded. If Panthers fans needed a clue that the Cam Newton era was fully upon on us, here it was. It is Cam’s team now.
What we probably didn’t expect was how much we would handicap Cam right out of the gate. For not only was sparkplug and gamechanger Smith gone, but also LaFell, Ginn, and Saints beater Dominik Hixon. So not only did we lose Smith, the signature weapon, but his carefully crafted support network that he had needed for years. Buy big on Greg Olsen, fantasy players. The new faces include first round pick Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jason Avant, and Wolfpack alumnus Jerricho Cotchery.
Has an NFL team ever tried to win a championship with Jason Avant at receiver and a key defensive coach named McDermott? How did that go? Let’s ask the Donovan McNabb era Philadelphia Eagles, who tried to do exactly that. What were McNabb’s feelings about that era? His only super Bowl run occurred when the Eagles signed top receiver Terrell Owens. In an interview McNabb wondered if the Panthers were doing the same thing to Newton.
Coaches may insist that wide receivers are dime a dozen. However, every great quarterback has produced more when paired with a superior receiver. If you thought Tom Brady was good before 2007, look at what he did with Randy Moss. A big play receiver opens up the rest of the field. Defenses have to account for them. That leaves gaps for others. Avant’s resume is built from playing with DeSean Jackson. Cotchery found touches in Pittsburgh from the emergence of Antonio Brown. There is no clear answer who will open the field for them here.
In the end it will be all about the Benjamin. Kelvin Benjamin is 6’5” and 243 pounds. That is enormous for a receiver. It could make him the special weapon the Panthers lack. Or it could turn him into the next David Boston. Benjamin will hold one of the keys to determine whether the Panthers are in for a special season or a grinder. In today’s NFL, there is not really much difference between those two. This of course only works if Benjamin is healthy, so a knee bruise is better in that respect.
I think the Panthers offense will look a little more like it did in Rivera’s first year here. Steve Smith stretched the field while Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey worked the seams. Now it will be Benjamin stretching the defense with Olsen and Ed Dickson working the middle. With only a knee bruise, we don’t have to scrap that theory yet.