Benjamin eagerly catching up in 2nd season with Bills
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Kelvin Benjamin burst up the right sideline, timed his turn some 20 yards upfield, and made a leaping catch by using his imposing 6-foot-5 frame to box-out cornerback Tre’Davious White on the opening day of the Bills’ mandatory minicamp.
It wasn’t so much the catch that thrilled Benjamin. It was, more so, how effortlessly he leaped now that his two once-wobbly knees are feeling better.
“I’m so happy to have both knees working for me at the same time,” Benjamin said Wednesday.
“Last season, that catch, even trying to jump up and get that, I would have had to put so much effort just to jump. I mean, I did it with ease. It was just like second nature to me.”
That’s encouraging for Benjamin, who had offseason surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee. Benjamin also played through a sore left knee, which he strained while still playing for Carolina, before being traded to Buffalo on Oct. 31.
The 27-year-old is attempting to re-establish himself as one of the league’s more productive receivers following a mostly forgettable season in which injuries and the trade stunted his production.
Benjamin finished with 48 catches for 692 yards and three touchdowns, all career lows since being selected by Carolina with the 28th pick in the 2014 draft.
Benjamin is eager to put last year behind, by saying, “You’ve got to have a short memory, you know what I’m saying, forget about it and move on.”
It helps being healthy, and Benjamin having an entire offseason to familiarize himself with Buffalo and new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll .
Just as important, Benjamin believes he’s in a better place entering the final year of his contract after getting the sense he no longer fit the Panthers’ long-term plans.
Benjamin revealed he prompted the Panthers to trade him.
“I didn’t want to be there no more, nah,” he said. “I just felt like they weren’t featuring me more. I was their No. 1, but I wasn’t getting my No. 1 targets.”
Benjamin had just 32 catches on 51 targets in eight games with the Panthers last season. That was a sharp decline from his rookie season, when he was targeted 145 times, and finished with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane gave up third- and seventh-round draft picks to acquire Benjamin, and acknowledged having inside information on the receiver being available. Beane previously served as the Panthers assistant GM and had a hand in drafting Benjamin.
“I didn’t think it was a what you’d call a perfect marriage at the time for various reasons, and probably looking at a lot of avenues for blame,” Beane said of Benjamin’s falling out in Carolina.
“I know when he’s healthy what he can do. And you can’t coach size and length that he has. And that’s a weapon to defend.”
In Buffalo, Benjamin is expected to be a fixture on a revamped offense lacking proven depth behind him at receiver.
He also benefits from playing under coach Sean McDermott, who has firsthand knowledge of the threat Benjamin can present after previously serving as the Panthers defensive coordinator.
“It’s a matchup concern for defenses, it’s a matchup concern for defensive coordinators, and one we need to use wisely,” McDermott said.
The Bills’ passing attack ranked no better than 22nd in three seasons under Tyrod Taylor, who was traded to Cleveland this offseason. Buffalo hasn’t cracked the top 10 of the NFL in yard passing since finishing fifth in 2002 during Drew Bledsoe’s first season.
Rookie first-round pick Josh Allen, free-agent addition AJ McCarron and second-year backup Nathan Peterman are competing for the starting job.
Benjamin is eager to show he hasn’t lost a step, while knowing he has something to prove when it comes to making a case for his next contract.
“I feel like it’s going to come. You ain’t got to sit there and beg for it,” Benjamin said. “Money, the money, it’s going to come.”
NOTES: Allen ended the final day of mandatory practices on Thursday by hitting fellow rookie WR Austin Proehl on a deep touchdown pass on their first play from scrimmage. ... The Bills are off until opening training camp in suburban Rochester, New York, on July 26.