CHARLOTTE – This time last year, quarterback Cam Newton watched intently from the sideline as rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin worked to get up to speed.
This year at the first week of organized team activities, Benjamin was the one watching from the sideline as Newton flung the ball around to a plethora of pass catchers.
"I'm getting a lot of mental reps right now," said Benjamin, who missed the first week of OTAs with a strained hamstring. "Right now, it's about getting healthy and getting back on the field.
"It's up to the trainers. Right now they're just taking their time with it."
Benjamin, coming off a team rookie record 1,008-yard season, injured the hamstring during Phase Two of the offseason workout program. The Panthers moved into the third and final phase this week.
"Kelvin tweaked it a couple of weeks ago. Coming out of a break, he slipped a little bit on the wet turf and strained it," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We're being a little bit cautious, but the unintended consequence that's been a plus has been getting Devin snaps."
Rivera was talking about Devin Funchess, the Panthers' 2015 second-round draft choice. Funchess, too, missed practice Thursday to attend the first day of the annual NFLPA Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles with about 40 other rookies.
"I really wish Kelvin could work, and Devin had to go do the rookie premiere, but what that's done is it has given an opportunity to a lot of the other guys that we really want to take a nice, long look at," Rivera said. "We've got a good group of guys, and we're excited about it.
"Our wide receiver group has gone through a transition the last year-and-a-half, and we expect it to continue to get better."
Newton and the rest of the wide receivers enjoyed a big day Thursday, which means it wasn't a great day for the secondary. The cornerback group was without a pair of potential starters in Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere as well as a potential diamond in the rough in undrafted rookie .
"Charles had a family issue back in Chicago that he had to take care of – nothing serious," Rivera said. "Bene's hamstring was a little tight this morning, so we kept him out. We're working up-tempo, so the rest time between plays hasn't been much.
"The hamstring has been lingering (for Peters). The sooner we can take care of that, the better because we need to see him. Today was a tough day on the corners – Lou Young had to go and get an IV. It was rough with those guys getting double-dutied."
Outside of an injury or an obligation here and there – first-round linebacker Shaq Thompson and undrafted fullback Lee Ward are back at school - the Panthers are in good shape with the offseason workout program approaching the stretch run. The program will end with a mandatory veteran minicamp June 16-18.
"It's been very good," Rivera said. "For the most part we've had real good attendance."