Kelvin Benjamin hasn’t looked much like a rookie in the preseason, but his first rookie mistake came Sunday night.
After grabbing a pass well out of bounds on a throw-away from Derek Anderson, Benjamin got up and flicked the ball at Chiefs cornerback Chris Owens.
He wasn’t done, though. He then head-butted Owens and shoved him with two hands. The unnecessary play drew a 15-yard penalty in the final seconds of the first half and pushed the Panthers out of field-goal range.
Benjamin doesn’t have the reputation of being temperamental, so the trifecta of the ball flick, head butt and shove seemed out of character for the rookie.
But the Panthers and coach Ron Rivera have emphasized being smarter after the whistle since January’s playoff loss to San Francisco.
The Panthers had three personal foul calls go against them in the 23-10 loss to the 49ers in January. Rivera felt two of those penalties changed the momentum of the game, and he and his staff have stressed being physical without making bone-headed plays like the one Benjamin did Sunday night.
Cason has strong showing
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said last week he still was undecided on his starting cornerbacks for Week 1 of the regular season.
In Sunday’s exhibition, Antoine Cason tried to make the decision easier for the coach.
Cason made three open-field tackles in the first half that had to please defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, whose scheme calls for defensive backs to be able to make open-field, one-on-one tackles in the zone coverage they play.
Cason stopped the speedy De’Anthony Thomas in the first quarter for a loss of 4 yards after the Chiefs made it to the red zone for the first time of the evening.
On third down, Cason again made a tackle for loss, this time shooting through to stop running back Joe McKnight for a loss of 2 and forcing the Chiefs to attempt a field goal.
Cason’s final open-field tackle of the evening came in the second quarter, when he tackled receiver Kyle Williams after a gain of 1 yard.
At Wofford College near the end of training camp, Rivera said he was almost set with his offensive line but still was unsure about his defensive backs. Cason and Melvin White had taken the majority of first-team reps at corner, and Cason had a leg-up on White as the top corner.
Josh Norman, Josh Thomas, Charles Godfrey and White have all seen time with the first-team defense in practice at cornerback.
Inactives: Veteran linebacker Chase Blackburn was ruled inactive with a back injury, and second-year linebacker A.J. Klein started in his place.
Tight end Greg Olsen also sat out with a calf injury after getting stepped on the last day of training camp in Spartanburg. Ed Dickson and Brandon Williams were the top two tight ends.
Along with Blackburn and Olsen, seven other Panthers didn’t dress in uniform Sunday. Receiver Kealoha Pilares, receiver De’Andre Presley, safety Tre Boston, running back Darrin Reaves, safety Roman Harper, defensive tackle Linden Gaydosh and tight end Mike McNeill all sat out.
Chiefs starting running back Jamaal Charles stayed in Kansas City with a foot injury. Starting defensive end Mike Devito was also ruled out and Jaye Howard started in his place.
Observations• Norman and Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe got into a jawing match in the second quarter. Norman broke up a pass and let Bowe hear about it. The two got in each other’s faces, and linebacker Thomas Davis rushed in to push Norman out of a potential penalty.
• About eight men dressed in blonde wigs sat near the front row cheering French-Canadian tackle David Foucault.
• Linebacker Luke Kuechly wanted to work on his pass coverage this offseason, and there was good and bad Sunday night. He tipped an Alex Smith pass just past the line of scrimmage in the first quarter but was called for defensive pass interference late in the second quarter.
• Star Lotulelei blew through guard Jeff Allen late in the second quarter and sacked Smith. Allen watched Lotulelei sack Smith from a seated position after getting beaten.
• Benjamin had a nice hands catch across the middle in the two-minute drill from Anderson.
• Tight end Brandon Williams made a nice 31-yard catch in the third quarter that got the Panthers across midfield and to the 28-yard line.
• Charlotte native Brenton Bersin’s 16-yard touchdown in the third quarter was his first of the preseason. He had a great start to camp but cooled as he stopped getting targeted in the last week of training camp.
• Tavarres King went down awkwardly on his left knee midway through the fourth quarter and limped off the field.