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Carolina Panthers

Kelvin Benjamin: 'I need to be in the best shape of my life'


CHARLOTTE – Kelvin Benjamin's offseason program didn't start the way anyone wanted it to.

When the fourth-year wide receiver arrived for the start of workouts, the scale revealed he was "a little heavy," as head coach Ron Rivera put it.

"I was really kind of disappointed," Benjamin said after a strength and conditioning session Wednesday. "I wanted to come in and set the bar high for myself and let my teammates know that KB is back this year and he's ready to roll.

"I think people saw that first weigh-in and were like, 'Woah, is he ready to play?' But we had a good talk. (Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman) told me what I had to do, and that's what I've been doing."

Benjamin's own disappointment has motivated him throughout his daily workouts. So too has the outside noise coming from those joking at his expense, ready to write him off.

"All I can do is take it and use it as motivation to get where they want me to be," said Benjamin, who plans to get his naturally hulking 6-foot-5 frame down to the 245-pound range. "I'm so used to (the criticism). I don't worry about it. It won't affect me. Once camp starts and we start tossing that ball around, people will move on."

That said, Benjamin knows his weight is something that must be addressed if he's to reach his full potential.

"I need to be in the best shape of my life. That's what we're getting to," Benjamin said. "I have to get back to being dominant."

As a rookie in 2014, Benjamin looked like a player ready to be a dominant force when he posted 1,008 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. But the ACL tear he suffered during a one-on-one drill in the ensuing training camp wiped out his 2015 season and impacted him in 2016. As with every player coming off a major injury, Benjamin needed to work himself into "football shape," and he finished an admittedly up-and-down season with 941 yards and seven touchdowns.

"It was kind of like a rookie year all over again actually," Benjamin said. "I had one year under my belt, but I still didn't have a lot of experience. And now I have that confidence that my knee can do it.

"It definitely helps going through a season and knowing that my knee can handle it."

That wasn't always the case last year for Benjamin, who acknowledged how challenging it was to clear the psychological hurdle his surgically repaired knee presented. He said curl routes were particularly problematic.

"Early in the season, I ran one and I just always felt something," Benjamin said. "I know that was more mental than anything, and I'm running them now."

The final two games of the 2016 season were a step in the right direction for Benjamin (10 catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns). Last month's weigh-in halted that positive momentum, but his late-season production serves as a reminder of what he's capable of.

"I want to come out and play like I did in those last two games," he explained. "Play with emotion and have fun. Be there when my name is called for the team. Go hard every play."

New wide receivers coach Lance Taylor wants Benjamin to take charge of the group, and he's determined to earn the respect that comes with being a leader.

After Rivera and Gettleman addressed concerns about his weight, the Panthers picked up the fifth-year option on the former first-round pick, keeping him under contract through 2018. Benjamin took that as a sign of faith and trust.

"I'm excited. I've been grinding, going hard," Benjamin said. "I'm happy that the team picked up the fifth-year (option). That shows they believe in me. There is a lot still in store for me."

View photos of the Panthers as they participate in the strength and conditioning program.

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