6-Pack: Benjamin plays big, Jags rave about McCaffrey, bringing "the dog back"

1.) Playing big

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It's only through the prism of preseason games, but Kelvin Benjamin looks different. Not in a fluctuating weight kind of way, but in the way the wideout's playing.

"Benji has had an unbelievable training camp," quarterback Cam Newton said Thursday night in Jacksonville. "I do see growth out of him and we need that growth out of him because he is pretty much the leader of that room."

Because he's so soft-spoken, Benjamin has never seemed to fit the mold of a natural leader. And while the 26-year-old is apparently warming up to the role, his play is doing the loudest talking.

Benjamin's stats are solid: eight receptions for 107 yards and two touchdowns with limited snaps through three games. But what doesn't show up in the box score is how he's using his 6-foot-5 frame. He appears to be initiating contact at a rate we haven't previously seen from him.

"I think Kelvin's playing very, very physical," head coach Rivera said. "He's running really good routes, he's a great target, and he presents a good target to the quarterback. He's making the catches and getting upfield. He doesn't waste a lot of steps once he catches the ball. He knows to get north and south, and he does that very quickly."

Again, it's just the preseason, so it's too soon to know if Benjamin is going to finally flip the switch from occasional big gamer to consistently dominant force. But the early signs ahead of his third full season are promising.

"He is a complete receiver," Newton said. "You rarely see premier guys go out and block and be effective in the running game.

"One of those plays early on with (running back Jonathan Stewart), he cut back and it would not have been possible if you didn't have blocking on the second level. You see Benji on his route and he tries to stick his nose in there and throw a block. It sets the tone for our team."

 2.) Raving about the rookie

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There's no slowing down the Christan McCaffrey hype train, even after a game when he averages 3.0 yards per rush.

Here's what a couple of the Jaguars had to say about the first-round pick: 

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell – "He had a little more power than I thought he had. For a shifty guy, he's strong and I'm very impressed by him."

Linebacker Myles Jack – "McCaffrey will make you miss, he'll dip and make you move out of your gap, but he'll lower his shoulder and fall forward. … Going against McCaffrey is very difficult; a very shifty guy and very fast. He's very talented." There's no slowing down the Christan McCaffrey hype train, even after a game when he averages 3.0 yards per rush. 

Here's what a couple of the Jaguars had to say about the first-round pick: 

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell – "He had a little more power than I thought he had. For a shifty guy, he's strong and I'm very impressed by him."
 
Linebacker Myles Jack – "McCaffrey will make you miss, he'll dip and make you move out of your gap, but he'll lower his shoulder and fall forward. … Going against McCaffrey is very difficult; a very shifty guy and very fast. He's very talented."

3.) Early returns

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McCaffrey finished the night with 21 yards on seven carries and one reception for 12 yards. He also got his special teams feet wet as a punt returner.

"I hadn't done it in a while. There were a couple of them where I felt like I was one cut away," said McCaffrey, who totaled five yards on two returns. "But we'll start to get in a rhythm there and hopefully we can make some bigger plays out there."

McCaffrey would've had a third chance if Jacksonville hadn't picked a perfect time to pull off a fake. 

After a three-and-out on their first drive, it appeared the Jaguars were again going to give the ball back after three plays of their second. But instead of having former Panther Brad Nortman boot it away, running back Corey Grant took a direct snap and slipped through a hole in the line. That left McCaffrey as the last man standing between Grant and the end zone.

"That's the hardest open-field tackling drill there was," McCaffrey said when asked what it felt like to suddenly turn into a defender. "I was on an island with a fast guy and all I tried to do was make him go left and right and have one of our guys catch him."

McCaffrey didn't make the tackle, but he did successfully veer Grant to his right, helping safety Colin Jones make a touchdown-saving tackle.  

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4.) Right tackle rotation

Two seasons ago, the Panthers planned to put rookie Daryl Williams in a limited right tackle rotation with Mike Remmers. That schedule was thrown off when Williams suffered a knee sprain in the season opener against the Jaguars.

Now Williams is the veteran who will need to make way for a rookie. 

Knowing inevitable bumps and bruises on the line will require second-round pick Taylor Moton to play sooner rather than later, the Panthers want to speed up his development with a plan similar to the one they had for Williams. So, as we saw Thursday, Moton joined the starters for the Panthers' third drive before Williams subbed back in for drive No. 4. 

"I think it was a good experience for me," Moton said, "but I've got a lot to learn and get better at." 5.) Bringing "the dog back"

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Cornerback Zack Sanchez has been cut, re-signed and largely forgotten since the Panthers took him in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. But he may have put himself back in the conversation for a roster spot with his best performance as a pro.  

Sanchez, who joined part of the starting defense when he was subbed in to start the third quarter, picked off a pass and batted away another ball in the red zone. Afterward, as fellow cornerback Captain Munnerlyn playfully played reporter among proper media, the two had this exchange: 

Munnerlyn – "Ever since we've been in Tennessee you've been making plays on the football and doing a great job. I'm very proud of you and I want you to keep this thing going, OK?" 

Sanchez – "To be honest with you, Cap has kind of brought the dog back out of me. Us being smaller guys, and the way that Cap plays, it's kind of brought that back out of me. It's what I was in college and I kind of got away from that last year. Cap has really helped me bring that feistiness back."

(Munnerlyn pretends to cry)

Sanchez, cont.: "If you watched the Tennessee game last week,  you kind of saw a little bit after the play. Just being a guy that people don't want to come block and try to get physical with. Being a smaller guy, you've got to bring that edge. I don't have the size that (James Bradberry and Daryl (Worley) have, so I have to be a pit bull out there like Cap and like Kurt (Coleman)." 

6.) Oh, brother

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Somewhat lost in the excitement of the preseason debuts of Newton and rookie wideout was Ryan Kalil's return.

"It's not like riding a bicycle," said the Pro Bowl center, who's coming back from shoulder surgery. "To be successful in football you've got to keep at it, especially the older you get."

Not only was it Kalil's first game since October, but it was also his first game on the same line as his brother. 

"Overrated. Super overrated," he joked when asked about the experience. 

Added younger brother Matt: "It was fun. Our first official game together. It's still kind of weird playing with him. But having him and Cam back – two key players – it was awesome."

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