Wednesday, October 07, 2015
Ted Ginn Jr. and the Panthers receivers have defied predictions that the passing game would suffer in Kelvin Benjamin's absence. Grant Halverson/Getty Images
By David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
October 7, 2015
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- ESPN analyst and Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter predicted the Carolina Panthers wouldn’t win more than seven games after Kelvin Benjamin suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp.
He wasn’t the only one.
The reason was quarterback Cam Newton wouldn’t have enough weapons without his star wide receiver and a true No. 1 to replace him among a cast of no-names.
The Panthers are 4-0.
So far, Newton and company are proving everyone wrong. This unknown group of receivers and Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen have accounted for seven receiving touchdowns through four games.
At this point last season with Benjamin the Panthers had six.
Ted Ginn Jr., like Carter a former Ohio State star, has been a big reason. He has 12 catches for 206 yards and three touchdowns, including his first career two-touchdown game in Sunday’s 37-23 victory over Tampa Bay.
“I can’t believe Cris Carter," Ginn said when told of the preseason prediction. “He’s a Buckeye. ... It just puts fire in us."
Responded Carter by email: “They're having a great year. I admit I made a mistake. Tell him I'll start giving them some publicity."
If the Panthers keep winning, the publicity will come. It already is for Ginn, who for some reason excels with the Panthers.
He has eight touchdown catches for Carolina in 16 games in 2013 and four this season. In his previous seven seasons for Miami, San Francisco and Arizona he has a combined six touchdown catches.
His only touchdown catches the past five seasons have been with the Panthers.
“I just feel this team here, this coaching staff, knows what I can do," Ginn said. “They optimize my speed, my talent."
Ginn has been known as a deep threat most of his career, including Carolina. But against Tampa Bay he showed his versatility, catching two passes underneath for touchdowns of 24 and 6 yards.
“A lot of people just see the speed," Ginn said. “As long as I keep going out and just putting that out there, our days coming up will be better."
Not that Ginn has completely replaced Benjamin. A year ago, the rookie out of Florida State had 21 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns in his first four games. He finished the regular season with nine.
But holding true to what offensive coordinator Mike Shula said when Benjamin was injured, the Panthers have replaced him by committee.
Ginn, Philly Brown, Brenton Bersin and Jerricho Cotchery have combined for 38 catches for 398 yards and five touchdowns.
Olsen also has played a big role, catching 17 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
Give Newton credit, too. There were times last season when he may have depended too heavily on the 6-foot-5 Benjamin. He’s become more confident spreading the ball around.
“Cam was forced to use other targets, use other people on offense," cornerback Charles Tillman said Tuesday on ESPN’s "First Take." “He’s dishing out the ball equally. That’s one of the things that’s helped change his game.
“I’m loving what I’m seeing on offense."
The offense hasn’t always looked pretty, as Ginn reminds. He also reminds it will get prettier when players such as rookie receiver Devin Funchess get more acclimated.
Funchess was the player most mentioned when Benjamin was injured. He has only three catches for 38 yards.
Others have picked up the slack. Bersin, who moved up from the practice squad after veteran Jerricho Cotchery suffered a high ankle sprain two weeks ago, had a team-high four catches for 54 yards against Tampa Bay.
Two were in traffic with the outcome still in doubt.
“We expect those from those guys, especially from a group that’s getting so scrutinized with not being good enough," Newton said. “Those guys are really stepping up to the challenge and getting better each week."
And so far, proving experts such as Carter wrong.
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