After an impressive rookie season with the Carolina Panthers, Benjamin looks like he is going to pick up right where he left off. The second year wide receiver has put to rest any questions about his weight or hamstring issues from OTAs during the first part of training camp. He carried those strong performances in practice right into the game against the Buffalo Bills.
Benjamin finished the day with three receptions for 36 yards and one touchdown. It was a small sample size but he looked much more polished and fluid than he did last year. The one thing that stood out is that he has a little better body control. On the touchdown reception, he was able to position his body and even give a slight push off to create the space to go up and make the catch. These are subtle parts of his game that will go a long way to a big season.
The biggest knock on Benjamin last year was the dropped passes, which he was near the top of the league in that category. This wasn’t an issue last night and Benjamin did a good job of securing the ball when he caught in.
On his second reception, Benjamin came across the middle and was drilled by safety Corey Graham in the back but he was able to hold onto the ball to complete the catch. He did let his emotions get the best of him and spun the ball in front of the Bills defenders, which is a penalty, but it certainly didn’t take away from the catch itself.
The Panthers run game was rather lackluster but that is expected when the team was without Jonathan Stewart, their starting running back, who was a late scratch. The offense was only able to muster 73 rushing yards but a third of those yards were by Jordan Todman. On only three carries, Todman was able to pick up 23 yards and had the only run over 10 yards last night.
When the Panthers signed Todman, the thought was that he would be a good special teams signing and is a good return man. Well he could have a bigger role in this offense if he continues to run the way he did last night. The 5’10” running back was elusive and making strong cuts in traffic and could fill the role of a change of pace running back.
He could be a poor man’s Darren Sproles in this offense by catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up chunks of yards quickly on draw plays. Over the past two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Todman has 39 receptions for 314 yards and has averaged 7.9 yards per reception. I would expect the coaching staff to try and get him a few more touches in the upcoming preseason games to see how much he can contribute to this offense.
The biggest disappointment last night may have been the Panthers pass rush as a whole with Kony Ealy and Frank Alexander struggling the most in this group. The defense was going to be without Charles Johnson, who is battling a calf injury, and this was going to be a great chance for second-year player Ealy to showcase his game. He had fallen behind Alexander on the depth chart, who was listed as the starter, but neither player had a good game.
Ealy played 34 snaps on Friday night but just looking at the box score, fans would have never known as he didn’t register a single sack, tackle or QB hit. Meanwhile, Alexander played 33 snaps and wasn’t much better but did register one QB hit.
The biggest issue with the two defensive ends on Friday night was they lost containment a number of times on the Bills’ quarterbacks and Tyrod Taylor was able to hurt them on the ground. He finished the game with 47 rushing yards on only six attempts.
These two have been competing for the starting job opposite Johnson but the coaching staff may need to go back to the drawing board this week in practice.
I was always skeptical of the idea of Fozzy Whittaker as the primary backup to Jonathan Stewart. He was lackluster for most of last year, aside from the 42-yard touchdown reception against the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs. However, the coaching staff listed him on the depth as the number two running back and he had a great chance to secure that position on Friday night.
Well he let that opportunity slip away as he carried the ball five times for only three yards. When you combine this performance with the play of Cameron Artis-Payne and Todman, his spot on the depth chart is in question.
Now to be fair to Whittaker, he was going up against one of the best run defenses a season ago while the other two backs where facing the second and third string defenses. However, there is something to be said about how a player runs. When Artis-Payne runs and is tackled, it seems like it takes two or more defenders to bring him down while Whittaker seems to go down a little easier.
It would not be surprising to see the running back position have their depth chart be shaken up prior to the Panthers next preseason game Saturday night against the Miami Dolphins.
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