SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in his left knee Wednesday, an injury that the team announced will sideline him for the season.
"Obviously, we feel awful for Kelvin," general manager Dave Gettleman said in a press release. "He's worked tremendously hard to put himself in a positon to have a strong year. We're confident he will attack his surgery and rehab with the same determination he has met all challenges before."
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It's a major blow to the Panthers in their quest to win a third straight NFC South championship. Benjamin had developed into Carolina's No. 1 receiver after setting franchise rookie records in 2014 with 73 receptions for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera told reporters earlier in the day Benjamin had a sprained knee and remained hopeful everything would be fine. However, Benjamin was taken back to Charlotte, North Carolina where an MRI revealed the tear.
The injury occurred during a joint practice with the Miami Dolphins.
Benjamin was running a one-on-one route against Dolphins safety Reshad Jones when he made a cut toward the sideline and his knee buckled. He crashed to the ground and screamed in pain as he grabbed for the knee.
"He went to plant and make a swim move and without any contact just kind of went down," Rivera said. "It was unfortunate and it's one of those things that could have happened in any drill."
As Benjamin lay on the ground, players from both teams gathered around him and took a knee.
Trainers attended to Benjamin and quickly called for the cart to take him into the locker room. Quarterback and close friend Cam Newton helped Benjamin into the cart. Newton appeared disturbed by the events as trainers carted his top target off the field.
While wide receiver is considered one of Carolina's deeper positions, it will be difficult to replace Benjamin.
To make matters worse, rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess also tweaked a hamstring and is expected to miss practice Thursday against the Dolphins. Earlier in training camp wide receiver Stephen Hill suffered a torn ACL at training camp and was later waived-injured.
It's expected that Corey Brown and veteran Jerricho Cotchery would be the starters entering the team's preseason game against Miami on Saturday night. The Panthers will count on wide receivers like Ted Ginn Jr., Brenton Bersin and Jarrett Boykin to step up and battle for more playing time.
Ginn said he spoke with Benjamin after practice told him, "keep his head up."
"You've got to realize he's our No. 1 guy," Ginn said. "Not having your No. 1 guy on the practice field, it hurts you a little bit. I believe we have the guys behind him to step up and do whatever we need to do to fill the void right now."