Four Downs: Benjamin shines again, Harper returns as Panthers top Steelers

Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin has 11 receptions for 173 yards and a touchdown in four preseason games.

The Carolina Panthers played their fourth and final game of preseason Thursday night, as they traveled to Pittsburgh, where they won 10-0 at Heinz Field.

Here are four observations from the game:

The rookie wide receiver continues to impress, regardless of who is throwing the ball. Against the Steelers, the Panthers had backup Derek Anderson start the game in place of starter Cam Newton who is dealing with a cracked rib.

It made no difference to Benjamin, who finished the game with four catches for 56 yards. 

This is what the first-round draft pick out of Florida State has done all preseason. He just makes catch after catch and has rarely, if ever, drops the ball. 

His size helps him shield off defenders and allows him to get his long arms stretched out to snare the ball out of the air. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs at least 240 pounds and defensive backs have yet to prevent him from getting the ball. 

If everything stays status quo with Benjamin, he may should make the All-Rookie team and may even have a shot at Rookie of the Year honors, which is something teammates Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly did in successive seasons.

Even though head coach Ron Rivera didn’t play starting tight end Greg Olson or starting running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, he still opted to have the offensive line get in considerable work that went into the second quarter.

That was understandable. It certainly needs it.

This entire offseason Rivera has tried different players at different positions and lineups along the line in hopes of finding a unit that can hold its own. So far, that hasn’t happened.

And after Thursday’s game, nothing was accomplished that would give him great confidence. 

The one major bugaboo that has hindered the offensive line this preseason is run blocking, and it was no different against the Steelers, as the two starting running backs, Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whitaker, rushed 17 times for 44 yards.

Safety Roman Harper played in his first preseason game for the Panthers after having missed nearly all of training camp because of a turf toe injury he sustained on August 1.

Harper, who joined the Panthers this offseason after eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, recorded one solo tackle. 

Harper signed a two-year contract this offseason and is looked at as the leader of the secondary, which it desperately needs considering Melvin White is the only player that got any significant playing time last season that return.

However, Harper admitted earlier in the week that it was going to take him a little bit before he is in football shape. Unfortunately, Carolina doesn’t have much time to wait as the secondary is nearly as big of a concern the offensive line. 

The Panthers certainly have had their fair share of injuries this preseason after going basically all off of last year without any. 

Carolina has had various degrees of injuries to starters along the offensive line, at running back, quarterback, defensive line and secondary. Most, if not all, will be ready for Tampa in Week 1, but there have been plenty of practice days missed.

Against the Steelers, there weren’t any more injuries, nagging or otherwise. That will allow Carolina to get those dinged up to heal over the next 10 days. The only one that may have health issues is Newton, who has a hairline fracture in a lower rib on his right side. That could take three to five weeks to fully heal. However, he said earlier this week that he will definitely play the opening game.