Benjamin just coming into his own

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In short order, Kelvin Benjamin has become the "lead dog" of the Panthers' wide receiver unit, the guy to whom teammates as well as opponents first look.

But as Benjamin continues to get better while also helping his fellow receivers, opposing defenses won't be as easily able to key on him.

That's a great recipe for success for Benjamin – coming off a 1,000-yard rookie season – and for Carolina's offense.

"As the season went on, you could feel them adjusting, rolling coverages toward me," Benjamin said. "This year with Ted (Ginn, Jr.) and Philly (Brown) – all that speed – and the smarts of J-Co (Jerricho Cotchery), it's going to be really tough for defenses to do that."

Cotchery, entering his 12th NFL season, recently called Benjamin the "lead dog," a role he wasn't fully ready for as a rookie. Benjamin admitted to leaning heavily on his physical tools while getting up to speed last season, but he still managed to produce like a No. 1 receiver. Now there's obvious improvement in both his game and in the players around him.

"I knew coming in I was going to be a leader, but Coach Ricky (Proehl) and all of them still gave me time to grow. They knew I was a young guy, and they surrounded me with older guys to teach me," Benjamin said. "Even last year J-Co was in my ear, telling me, 'Be the spark. Be the spark.' I just tried to set the tempo, and the guys feed off that energy.

"I've got guys looking up to me now."

At 6-5 and 245 pounds, Benjamin is accustomed to people looking up to him in a literal sense, but he had to make an adjustment to be seen as a leader. It's actually come pretty natural because he loves the game and wants to be the best player possible.

That's a style of leadership that suits Benjamin.

"We've just got to keep working, keep improving," Benjamin said. "I get mad about the little things that I do wrong. I know when I could have been better at something. I hold myself to a high standard.

"I go to J-Co, go to Coach, and ask them how I can do it better. I get feedback. You have to know your mistakes to be able to correct them."

Benjamin has more room for error this season – not that he wants to view it that way. He and Brown now have a valuable year under their belt; the return of Ginn and his blazing speed will put that much more pressure on defenses; and rookie Devin Funchess is "going to be a big piece for us this year" in Benjamin's estimation.

Add in the improved health of quarterback Cam Newton, and the future – for this season and beyond – appears bright for Benjamin and Co.

"It's crazy the potential being under Ricky and how long he played the game and everything he's teaching me," Benjamin said. "I'm like a sponge, just soaking everything in. I'm willing to learn, wanting to get better.

"Everything's going good. We're going in the right direction. We just have to keep being consistent."

Photos of the wide receivers in action at practice during training camp.

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