Here are six observations from the Panthers' recently concluded training camp at Wofford College:
Benjamin has the goods: Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers' 2014 first-round draft choice, exceeded expectations in his first training camp. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound wide receiver was a consistent playmaker, making difficult catches look routine. There were questions about his route-running prior to the draft, but wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl has quickly helped polish those rough edges. The early success didn't seem to come as any surprise for Benjamin, as it was obvious he expected to be a go-to target from day one. Mission accomplished.
Red zone rise: Benjamin's presence immediately upgraded the Panthers' red zone offense – and it's not just his ability to reel in jump balls that will pay dividends. The attention he demands on the outside means there's just a little less attention paid to potential runs by quarterback Cam Newton or fullback Mike Tolbert. Plus, the power showed by guards Amini Silatolu and Trai Turner in camp is a good sign for Carolina's goal line rushing potential.
Bell emerges: The Panthers needed a new left tackle when Jordan Gross retired, and Byron Bell has taken the necessary steps to fill that role. He's been more vocal, more confident, more demonstrative. It's clear Bell has the respect of his teammates, and the naturally left-handed tackle appears comfortable in the competition for this new, high-profile position.
Defense oozes confidence: It's been fun to watch this defense evolve in recent years. The Panthers have steadily climbed up the ranks each season and now, the defense takes the field with an unmistakable swagger. With the help of some supremely talented defenders, head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have established something special. The defensive backfield has some sorting out to do, but expectations are sky high for this group, and they should be.
Tight ends provide more options: When pundits criticized Carolina's wide receiver situation in the offseason, they seemed to forget tight end Greg Olsen was the team's leading receiver last year. Olsen had another rock-solid camp, and his fellow tight ends impressed. Free agent signing Ed Dickson proved he could be a reliable target, and Brandon Williams took significant steps forward in his development. If the Panthers want to employ more pass-happy two tight end sets, they have the personnel to do it.
Return game up in the air: General manager Dave Gettelman said the team still has to figure this one out. With Ted Ginn Jr. gone, the Panthers need to find a replacement to return punts and kicks, and that process is ongoing. Ginn's ability to upgrade field position was a big boost last season, and the Panthers want someone to bring that element to the team in 2014. Will it be Kenjon Barner, Kealoha Pilares, Philly Brown or someone not currently on the roster? Gettleman and the Panthers will evaluate this closely throughout the remainder of the preseason.