Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin missed his second straight day of practice Thursday with a concussion, raising concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game at Green Bay.
Coach Ron Rivera said after practice the standout rookie is in the concussion protocol and will meet with independent doctors Friday to determine if he’s ready to play against the Packers. Rivera said it’s unclear when he’ll make a decision on Benjamin’s status.
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If Benjamin can’t play, Rivera said it would be a "considerable" loss for the offense "in light of who he is for us."
The first-round draft pick from Florida State has emerged as Carolina’s best wide receiver. He leads all rookies with 416 yards receiving on 31 catches, including four touchdowns. Only tight end Greg Olsen has more receptions than Benjamin for the Panthers.
Rivera earlier this week termed Benjamin’s concussion as "mild" after he took a shot to his helmet from Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. The 6-foot-5-245-pound Benjamin passed his concussion test on the sideline and return to the game, finishing with seven catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Rivera said Benjamin "did very well" when examined by independent doctors on Wednesday and then "took the next step" after meeting with the team’s trainers on Thursday.
Benjamin has been unavailable for comment this week.
"We’ll see how he’s doing" on Friday, Rivera said. "Hopefully, he passes. If he does, great."
If not, the Panthers could turn to Brenton Bersin to make his first NFL start.
Rivera indicated Bersin, rookie Philly Brown and Jason Avant are all options. The Panthers are also considering activating quarterback Joe Webb as a fifth wide receiver. Webb began getting reps at wide receiver this week. He has played the position before with the Minnesota Vikings.
Bersin has filled in for Benjamin this season when he needs a breather and caught a pass in each of the last five games.
After spending two seasons on the practice squad, Bersin became only the second player from Wofford College to see action in the NFL. The other is Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.
"It would be a great opportunity," Bersin said. "I’m preparing like I’m going to start. I know this offense in and out."
The Panthers also have questions at running back again this week.
DeAngelo Williams remains out with a high ankle sprain, but his primary backup Jonathan Stewart appears ready to roll after missing the last three games with a sprained knee. Stewart has practiced all week and Rivera said he’s taken the next step in practice.
Chris Ogbannayo and either Darrin Reaves or Fozzy Whittaker — if either is healthy enough to play after both sat out practice Wednesday and Thursday — will serve as the third-string back.
The good news for the Panthers is their leading rusher, quarterback Cam Newton, is making plays again with his feet. The Panthers entered last week’s game ranked 31st in the league in rushing, but the injury-riddled Newton was finally given the green light to run and racked up 107 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown in a 37-37 tie with Cincinnati. He also threw for 284 yards and two touchdowns.
Rivera said Newton is playing his best football since coming into the league despite dealing with rib and ankle injuries.
"This may have been that next big step that we’re all looking for him to take," Rivera said.