CHARLOTTE – It's been a trying offseason, professionally and personally, for Kelvin Benjamin.
Wednesday night in the Panthers' preseason opener, Benjamin played like a pro and got a response from his teammates that had to resonate on a personal level.
"We feel for him," said fellow wide receiver Damiere Byrd, who caught two touchdown passes after Benjamin set the tone with a pair of impressive plays. "Being able to see your teammate and your brother be able to rebound and come out in a game and play the way he did, you're always going to be happy for him."
Benjamin, whose mother passed away days before training camp commenced, has chosen to not speak with the media so far. His play spoke for itself in the Panthers' 27-17 victory over the Houston Texans at Bank of America Stadium, and his teammates' reactions spoke volumes.
"His first play and his last play might have been the best plays of the night," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It's great. It's good for everybody. Obviously it's good for him, and it's good for our offense. It was nice to see him out playing big."
"Big" was the operative word, for all the right reasons. Having put offseason questions about his weight behind him, Benjamin showed his strength and physicality on Carolina's first offensive snap of the preseason. On a catch five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he bounded off cornerback Kevin Johnson, who fell to the ground. Johnson got to his feet, only to be stiff-armed by Benjamin five more yards downfield on what eventually added up to a 17-yard gain.
"That intensity, it sets the tone," safety Kurt Coleman said. "I thought he had two great plays."
The second one was worth six points. The next time the Panthers got the ball, quarterback Derek Anderson lofted one down the right sideline, and the 6-foot-5 Benjamin skied over 5-11 corner Johnathan Joseph and came down with the ball for a 23-yard score and Carolina's first touchdown of the season.
"One-on-one coverage with an ostrich" as Anderson explained it.
"We've been working on it all camp, just trying to give him chances with balls up high enough where he can go make plays," Anderson continued. "He came off the ball nicely and obviously made a great play.
"I occasionally throw it up high and think, 'There's no way he's going to catch that.' But that one I felt pretty good about as soon as I let it go."
Coleman knows the challenge that Benjamin at his best presents a defense. And in his short stint Wednesday, Benjamin was at his best.
"Genetically, he is 6-5, 6-6, has a wingspan of 8-10. He creates such a mismatch for a lot of guys," Coleman said. "Actually a couple of days ago in practice, he made a catch like that on me. Being that tall gives him such an advantage.
"I told him pregame that it's time for him to emerge as that unstoppable wide receiver."
View the best photos from Panthers vs. Texans by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.