Benjamin's torn ACL is a devastating personal moment for the second-year receiver, and it puts the onus on Newton to carry a slow, imbalanced offense. The offensive line is shaky and the running game is led by a talented eight-year veteran, Jonathan Stewart, who has topped 200 carries once in his career. Newton is going to have a hard time finding open receivers, aside from stalwart tight end Greg Olsen.
Rookie second-round pick Devin Funchess, veteran Jerricho Cotchery, and journeyman Ted Ginn will all be asked to step up. Second-year undrafted player Corey Brown surprisingly has been listed as a starter this preseason. In theory, that makes him the team's No. 1 receiver. In reality, the Panthers have a roster full of No. 4 receivers.
The situation would feel less dire if the Panthers had an effective offensive coordinator. They have Mike Shula. As an inveterate Cam Newton believer, I wonder if the Carolina offense needs to bottom out in order to get rid of Shula before finding a coach that gives Newton a real chance to grow. It could happen this year, especially if Stewart can't stay healthy.
The hot takes about Newton's lack of development are inevitable, but they can be best minimized by a strong defense. (The free-agent receiver market certainly won't help.) Coach Ron Rivera needs to cook up some top-five defense magic like he did in 2013 and down the stretch last season. Otherwise, the Panthers are headed for another mediocre season in a division that is very much up for grabs.
Here's what else we learned Wednesday:
- It's a shame that Ken Stabler is not alive to learn that he was named as one of the Senior Committee candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016. Former Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins guard Dick Stanfel also was nominated. Stabler, who passed away last month, was a member of the 1970s All-NFL team.
To gain entry to the Hall of Fame, Stabler and Stanfel will need approval from at least 80 percent of the full voting body next January. The majority of Senior Committee candidates wind up getting into the Hall of Fame, but it's not a guarantee. Stanfel has been nominated by the Senior Committee twice before.
- The Cardinals' offensive line is having a rough month. Things got a lot worse Wednesday with the news that big free-agent pickup Mike Iupati will undergo knee surgery and miss about six weeks. Iupati was expected to shore up the team's running game. The Cardinals have big questions at center and their starting right tackle, Bobby Massie, is facing a three-game suspension to start the season.
- There is optimism that Bills running back LeSean McCoywill be ready for Week 1 despite his recent hamstring injury. But that's what we always hear about injuries at this time of year. (Including the recent injury to tight end Julius Thomas.) The reality is no one knows how quickly a hamstring injury is going to heal, and the Bills might have to plan for McCoy to share carries early in the year.