Coach: Panthers rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin still needs to work on learning nuances of NFL game
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While Kelvin Benjamin's NFL debut was a smashing success statistically, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the rookie wide receiver still has plenty of mistakes to correct this Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
Benjamin caught six passes for a team-high 92 yards and a touchdown last Sunday to help Carolina beat Tampa Bay 20-14.
Rivera rewarded the team's 6-foot-5, 245-pound first-round draft pick with a game ball for his production — but also reminded him there are areas in his game he needs to address.
Rivera said Benjamin's evaluation grade "should have been higher."
"He did a lot of good things and he was very productive but that doesn't speak to the whole body" of work, Rivera said.
Rivera said the 24-year-old Benjamin, who started just one year at Florida State before turning pro after his sophomore season, needs to learn the important nuances of the NFL game.
Specifically he said Benjamin failed to release outside of the numbers on one play, a strategy used to pull an extra defensive back his way and free up a teammate on a passing play.
Rivera also said Benjamin "bent in" a post route when he should have kept running — an error that resulted in an incompletion instead of a potential Carolina touchdown.
Benjamin also was flagged for a block in the back.
"He has to understand how important it is to be aligned properly and in the right spot and how important it is to release a certain way," Rivera said. "These are all things that young rookies learn and develop over a period of time. You just don't come into the league and understand the significance."
Rivera added Benjamin "has to understand how to be involved in the play even though the ball is not coming to you."
Benjamin said he plans to keep soaking in advice and getting better.
"It's about the team," Benjamin said. "You can come out and catch all of the balls but you don't want to be a selfish-type guy, you want to be a team guy."
Said linebacker Luke Kuechly: "The thing that is good about Kelvin is his demeanor is always the same. He's willing to work hard and he takes coaching well. ... He's going to be just fine."
Rivera couldn't be happier with some of the plays Benjamin made, including a 26-yard touchdown reception from Derek Anderson with Tampa Bay cornerback Mike Jenkins draped all over him.
"He made a lot of good plays when we needed him to," Rivera said.
This week Benjamin will be catching passes from Cam Newton, who will return to the starting lineup after missing the season opener with a rib injury. The two have developed a close relationship on and off the field.
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