Although there is more than one compelling narrative facing this 2014 Carolina Panthers team, the most compelling one seems to involve those potentially hauling in passes from the Panthers franchise quarterback. During Friday night’s preseason debut we got a glimpse of the bright future of one who we know will play a factor on the team this season; while we also got a look at a slew of players who are fighting for that elusive final receiver spot. In terms of compelling narratives, this one was too interesting to ignore.
Kelvin Benjamin was literally too big and too good to simply gloss over Friday night. Viewed as the successor to Panthers legend Steve Smith, Benjamin showed just how different his game was in one single play. With powerful long strides more commonly found in gazelle rather than in humans, Benjamin streaked down the field; beating the poor defender with relative ease. But Benjamin stumbled, falling forward yet remaining on his feet just long enough to secure a perfect pass from Derek Anderson (which is a truly weird sentence to type). You can check out the GIF of that play here. In that one play he showed why the Panthers decided to spend their valuable first round pick on him. He appears to be the rare combination of power and grace; the type of player that can not only be a red-zone threat, but can stretch the field as well. Benjamin is essential to an offense that will never truly be able to elevate the team without outside playmakers to take the pressure off Cam Newton. His performance, although brief, was highly encouraging.
While Benjamin was the headliner, the battle for one of the final receiver spots on the team provided plenty of intrigue. Tavarres King, Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin and Marvin McNutt all figured to be in the running to make the roster before the start of the Preseason. King seemed to stand out a bit more than the rest, hauling in four catches for 50 yards while also having another long pass from Joe Webb negated by one of the many penalties called during the game. Lately we have been hearing rumblings that Bersin had been moving ahead of the field based on his performance in camp, and he really did nothing to either help or hurt his candidacy after Friday. Although those two may seem like the favorites to snag the final spot, there is still a chance that players like McNutt (1-9) and Phillip Brown (3-23 and a impressive special teams tackle) could still find a way on to the roster. The Panthers need depth and talent at this position, so the source of production at that spot really does not matter much to them.
The first game of this preseason really only provided a prelude for what should be an intensified competition and showcase of all those at the wide receiver position. What was perhaps most encouraging for Panthers fans was seeing a player so highly touted as Benjamin show exactly why he was so highly touted in the first place. If Benjamin’s performances can continue to match the rave internal reviews, he could be the x-factor that could raise this offense about projected mediocrity. As with the other fringe players, these three games are the chance for one of them to show they can provide enough both on offense and special teams to warrant a roster spot on this team. The versatility they could provide may be more important than simply how well they catch passes.
One down and three more to go. And, as is the case after most initial preseason games, there is still much more to be decided.