Ask Bryan: Benwikere, Benjamin bouncing back

It was great to see Bene Benwikere get the interception this past week. I'm curious what your thoughts are whether he will start at nickel or move to the outside. The rookies have looked good on the outside for the most part, but it is only the preseason. – Todd in Spartanburg, S.C.

"I felt great there," said Benwikere, who served as the Panthers' starting nickel corner and served them well in last week's preseason victory at Tennessee. "I've been doing that since I first got here, so it's nothing new. I'm just happy to be back and be able to inch-by-inch get my roles back."

Note that Benwikere, who had an interception and a sack against the Titans, referred to getting his "roles" rather than his "role" back. By the time Benwikere came off the physically unable to perform list following a leg injury suffered last season, rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley were the presumptive starters on the outside. Not that long ago, it had been assumed that Benwikere would be a starter on the outside with one of the rookies.

It's never safe to assume in this league, though – and that includes assuming Benwikere is locked in at nickel. He's a great option there and the obvious choice for the near future, but he could be just as good an option on the outside if one of the rookies struggles or - dare I bring it up - gets injured. Basically, he's back to where he belongs, as arguably the most valuable and certainly the most versatile member of a young secondary.

"It's a big boost, just being able to come back and prove to the coaches that I still have it and can still make plays," Benwikere said. "The coaches always continued talking to me and never put me out or anything like that. There was no feeling like that.

"On the top of that, when the new guys came in, even though they got their spots, there wasn't any sulking. It was about me seeing if I could help get them better because I remember my rookie year I took my rookie bruises. If we can eliminate those, our football team will be better."

Will Kelvin Benjamin be on a pitch count in games early in season like they do in baseball to ease him back into the NFL game flow? – Jan in Asheville, N.C.

Yes. And no.

Benjamin, coming off a knee injury that cost him the entire 2015 season, played eight snaps in the preseason opener and nine in the second game. But the first-team offense was only on the field for just 31 total snaps, and he was in for 17 of them.

Head coach Ron Rivera has stated a goal of having Benjamin ready to play 30-35 snaps by the end of the preseason. If he is ready for that kind of action Week 1, it will be well below the 57 snaps on average (out of 67 snaps on average for the Panthers) that he played as a rookie in 2014, but that was pre-Devin Funchess. With Funchess now providing another big target and with the Panthers liking to pair a big receiver with a speed merchant (Ted Ginn, Jr. or Philly Brown) in many of their two-receiver sets, it's hard to see Benjamin playing as many snaps as he did in 2014 regardless of his conditioning.

So, if Benjamin does play 35 snaps in the opener, that might not be that far from his norm in 2016.

Hey Bryan, I noticed that Tom Lally and Donald Hawkins are both assigned No. 78. What's with that? – Tanis in Yadkinville, N.C.

It's a numbers game, in the strictest sense of the term. Per NFL rules, defensive and offensive linemen can wear jersey numbers 60-79, and defensive linemen also are allowed to wear 90-99. That's 30 total numbers, and the Panthers currently have 33 linemen on the roster.

So, the Panthers currently have three pairs of players – one offensive player and one defensive player within each pair – who have share numbers. In addition to Lally and Hawkins, defensive end Arthur Miley and recently signed offensive tackle Willie Smith are both wearing No. 71, while defensive tackle Eric Crume and offensive tackle Jordan Rigsbee are both wearing No. 72.

It's a common occurrence around the league with 90-man rosters, but something that will take care of itself likely when the roster is reduced to 75 next week and surely when it's trimmed to 53 before the regular season opener.

View photos of practice from the third week of preseason.

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