SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Kelvin Benjamin wanted it so much he could taste it.
"It's like going to that restaurant, getting a piece of steak and not getting to finish," Benjamin explained of the feeling he had while watching Super Bowl 50 from the sideline. "The whole time I was thinking, 'Man, I wish I could just run one route, catch just one pass.' But that wasn't reality."
Sidelined by a knee injury all season, Benjamin had to wait until Thursday to satisfy a small measure of his hunger, when, back at the site of the injury suffered nearly a year ago, he hauled in a pass before a boisterous crowd at opening night of training camp.
"Last year I didn't really get a lot of roars. It was cool," Benjamin said. "It felt great, felt great to get back out there with the team, moving around and catching balls.
"I was like a kid in the candy store."
Benjamin looked like he was taking candy from a baby at training camp last year, following up on a 1,000-yard rookie campaign with a dominating performance throughout camp. But it all came to a halt in the next-to-last practice, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during a one-on-one drill.
Having never been the victim of a major injury in his life, Benjamin went into a shell at first. But in time, the Panthers' performance without their No. 1 receiver and a call to action from general manager Dave Gettleman helped him turn the tide.
"Early on, the first five games or so, I just had to get away. I couldn't really see football because I would just get down," Benjamin said. "But once the guys got on a roll and they kept winning, that energy rubbed off on me. After that, I just became a leader from the sidelines, just pushing the guys.
"I remember Mr. Gettleman coming to me and saying, 'It's time to wipe the tears off and get to work.' Him telling me that helped me forget about it and move on. Then that year, it moved by so fast. And here we are, back at camp."
First up for Benjamin is building back to where he was before the injury. He'll slowly but surely add reps as he works his way into game shape, but what he doesn't plan to add is a knee brace in hopes of helping his rehab between the ears.
"Early on they recommended one, but I think a brace is just going to make me think about it. If I see that brace, I'm going to feel it," Benjamin said. "You've got to eliminate that from your mind and build that confidence back. That's what I'm doing every day.
"I had butterflies on that first ball, and I kind of bobbled it. But then once I got it and ran, I kind of settled down. Each day I'm gaining confidence."
Once Benjamin returns to the formidable form he showed as a rookie, he wants to build beyond that. Benjamin had a strong rookie season but looked stronger still in training camp last season, and that's the point from which he wants to pick up and go.
"I want to come back and be the best player I can be," he said. "I think my rookie year I left so much on the field, so I was so excited to come in for that second year. I didn't take care of my body as well that year. I had a lot of dropped passes and MAs (missed assignments). There was so much I could have improved on.
"I definitely want to just get back to being me and making plays when my name is called."
View photos from Carolina's second practice of training camp.