Benwikere steals some of spotlight from receivers

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With first-round draft choice Kelvin Benjamin poised to return to practice, several wide receivers aiming to claim a spot on the final roster alongside Benjamin stood out in Friday's rain-delayed practice.

The receivers may have made even more plays if not for another rookie trying to secure his own role.

Cornerback Bene Benwikere, a fifth-round draft pick the Panthers traded up to select, intercepted quarterback Derek Anderson twice and added a couple of nice pass break-ups.

"Bene had a good day. He made some things happen, and he's one of those young guys that catches your eye," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He plays with great vision, with eyes on the ball, so when you do that you give yourself an opportunity to make plays. He's got a natural feel for that."

When Benwikere wasn't making plays, a multitude of receivers were.

"Some of our wide receivers made some really big catches," Rivera said. "Tavarres King really showed, and it was impressive to see Toney Clemons make the catches he did. A lot of young guys are stepping up and taking the challenge now."

Benwikere, who also picked off a pass in Thursday's practice and returned it the length of the field, said it was "fair to say" that Friday was his best practice to date.

"I'm getting more acclimated to understanding what the coaches are looking for," he said. "Understanding my role has allowed me to play faster."

When the Panthers return to the practice field Saturday – scheduled for 9:25 a.m. with weather again leaving the plan up in the air – Benwikere and his fellow defensive backs could face a bigger challenge still. Rivera said that Benjamin could practice for the first time since sustaining a bruised knee Sunday.

"He ran well today," Rivera said. "Depending on how he is first thing in the morning, he'll probably be on the field first thing tomorrow."

Several other players sidelined Friday could be in action Saturday. Running back Kenjon Barner and cornerback Josh Thomas missed practice – Barner with tightness in his back as a result of his heavy workload, and Thomas with the same coming off a back injury. Offensive lineman Garry Williams didn't practice because of tendinitis in his surgically repaired knee.

"Kenjon is pretty doggone sore. He's done a lot of work, especially with us trying to be careful with DeAngelo (Williams)," Rivera said. "Garry had a little bit of patella tendinitis, which comes from knee surgery. But he should be back probably tomorrow."

The outlook isn't as good for defensive end Linden Gaydosh, who missed all of his rookie season in 2013 with a back injury. He twisted his ankle Thursday and is expected to be out at least a week.

Friday's practice was moved from the morning to the afternoon after relentless rain pelted the Wofford campus overnight. Weather could play a factor again Saturday, but either way it's expected to be another cool day relative to what Spartanburg typically delivers each August.

"It's a little bit concerning because the heat is part of conditioning," Rivera said. "Hopefully the weather will correct itself after a couple of more cool days, and we'll get some hot days that will be good for the guys."


The players have benefited the last couple of days from the presence of game officials on campus. They tossed around a few flags at practice Friday and will do the same Saturday, in addition to getting players, coaches and media updated on rule changes and points of emphasis for the 2014 season.

Among the highlights:

-- The use of abusive language as well as the use of props (including the goal posts) as a part of a celebration will now be flagged as unsportsmanlike conduct. "They engender ill will," line judge Carl Johnson said.

-- An offensive lineman blocking into the side of a defensive player's legs has been added to the definition of clipping along with language that already penalizes contact to the back of the legs.

-- Points of emphasis include defensive backs making contact beyond five yards and tugging at jerseys, as well as wide receivers pushing off to create space.

-- The NFL will experiment with moving the line of scrimmage on extra points back to the 15-yard line for the first two weeks of preseason. Two-point conversions will still originate from the 2.

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