The last time the Carolina Panthers had a long layoff, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin came back packing extra pounds.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera doesn’t expect that to be the case when the Panthers report to training camp July 30.
Rivera said he’s received good reports on Benjamin, who pulled both hamstrings during organized team activities after showing up to offseason workouts overweight. Rivera speculated last month the weight gain – a reported eight to nine pounds – might have contributed to the injuries.
General manager Dave Gettleman said in June he expected Benjamin to be ready for training camp, and Rivera said that appears to be the case.
“Everything has been solid for Kelvin. It was unfortunate during OTAs and minicamp that Kelvin missed time,” Rivera said Thursday at Hornets president Fred Whitfield’s annual HoopTee celebrity golf classic.
“He’s such an integral part of what we do offensively, we need to have him on the field. So he’s been working really hard. I know (head trainer Ryan Vermillion) and his staff are excited about the things that he’s done, the condition that he’s (in). So we expect to see him next week ready to roll.”
73 Catches for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in 2014, a Panthers rookie record
1,008 Receiving yards for Benjamin in 2014, also a Panthers rookie record
9 Catches for touchdowns for Benjamin in 2014, another Panthers rookie record
The 6-foot-5 Benjamin, last year’s first-round pick, played at 245 pounds in 2014, when he set Panthers’ rookie records with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
But Benjamin missed 10 of the 14 practices during OTAs. Rivera believes the injuries reinforced the importance of offseason conditioning for Benjamin and the rest of the team.
“He’s a solid, young man that’s a big part of what we do,” Rivera said. “He had success last year and we want him to continue to have that success. I think a lot of it is just him learning and growing as a young player.”
Rivera touched on several other subjects before teeing off at The Golf Club at Ballantyne.
▪ He said he had no misgivings about quarterback Cam Newton’s participation in a flag football tournament last weekend near Atlanta. Newton lined up at receiver for a handful of plays but did not run full speed, according to a member of the team Newton joined.
“I know he’s smart enough to know how to handle himself, just like when he went over to Australia and did the Aussie Rules Football,” Rivera said. “That’s the thing that’s special about Cam. Cam understands at the end of the day it’s all about playing for us.”
Newton has been leading workouts with the Panthers’ receivers the past two weeks in the Baltimore area, where Newton has spent part of his summer. Rivera was uncertain what facility the group is using, but said he’s happy Newton organized the workouts.
▪ Rivera said two injured players will not be ready when the Panthers begin camp – backup tight end Brandon Williams (groin) and reserve wideout De’Andre Presley (shin splints).
Angelo Wright, Williams’ agent, said Williams underwent minor surgery in June and should be ready by the end of the second week of camp.
Rivera said Presley’s injury is similar to the stress fracture in his left leg that caused him to begin last season on the physically unable to perform list.
Presley missed the first nine games while on the PUP list. He returned to play in four games before ending the season on injured reserve after sustaining a concussion against Cleveland.
▪ Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, are scheduled to move back into their south Charlotte home next week, six months after a fire caused $500,000 in damages and forced them to find temporary housing. Rivera has been living in a Lake Wylie home owned by former Panthers offensive tackle Jordan Gross.
Rivera said he looks forward to a couple nights at home before leaving for Spartanburg.
Rivera spent part of the summer vacationing at Lake Tahoe with his brother, Mickey, who has been battling pancreatic cancer for 21 months. Mickey was staying at Rivera’s home the night of the fire, which was caused by an improperly installed gas fireplace.
“It’s been a tough summer,” Rivera said. “But being able to spend time with him and family has been really good for me personally.”