The secondary hasn’t exactly been a strong suit for the Carolina Panthers over the last few season. The unit has lacked big playmakers and big names leading to the phrase the “Legion of Whom”, a play on words from the Seattle Seahawks secondary nicknamed the “Legion of Boom”. While the team helped themselves in the offseason acquiring veteran safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud along with defensive back Antoine Cason, the Panthers still took to the draft to provide depth behind their veterans. One of those players, Bene Benwikere out of San Jose State, is one player to watch heading into training camp.
When Bene was picked in the fifth round, most Panther fans didn’t know who he was or how to even pronounce his name. It’s pronounced (Ben-WICK-urr-rhee) if you were wondering. The Panthers’ defense was one of the best in the NFL last season and ranked second in the NFL yardage-wise. As great as that defense was, the secondary was looked upon as the biggest weakness and benefited greatly from a dominant front seven that included the likes of Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, and Luke Kuechly.
Heading into training camp, the secondary is still a big question mark. Carolina decided not to resign Mike Mitchell and Captain Munnerlyn, two of the better playmakers in the secondary. Given the uncertainty of this position, it could lead to Benwikere seeing some early action.
Ask anyone who scouted Benwikere and one word will come up time and time again: ballhawk. It’s the main reason Dave Gettleman, the Panthers general manager moved up 20 spots and gave up the team’s 7th round pick. Benwikere left San Jose State tied for the lead in career interceptions with 14 and the single game high for interceptions with 3.
Carolina knows this year that they’re going to have to force more turnovers. At OTA’s Benwikere stood out to some of the Panthers coaching staff because of his great instincts and quickness. Benwikere was seen mainly taking second team reps but that could change given one of his main competitors for a starting spot, Charles Godfrey, is coming off an Achilles injury that kept him sidelined all of last season.
Head Coach Ron Rivera spoke highly of him and attributed his ability to learn a complex NFL defense to his 21 score on the Wonderlic. It may be tough for Benewikere to earn a starting spot as a rookie, but don’t be surprised if you see him getting some game reps at some point during the season.
Benewikere could very well be this years Melvin White. White, an undrafted free agent signed with Carolina and found himself starting the last 10 games of the season. Opposing teams would constantly throw his way and sometimes he was up to the challenge and some Sundays he got torched. Inconsistency is expected from a rookie no matter what position they play.
Bene Benwikere I would argue is more talented at least from a physical perspective than White was at this point last year. My prediction? Bene will get a chance to prove himself but if he has too many “Melvin White moments” he may be banished to the sideline at crucial points in the game.
Stay tuned to isportsweb for more Carolina Panthers training camp coverage from myself and Sean Faulkner who earlier this week wrote about key position battles to watch.
Related article: Carolina Panthers: Most intriguing positional battles