About the only recent bit of good news to emerge from the Buffalo Bills' wide receiver position is that Kelvin Benjamin showed up for offseason workouts looking healthier and in better physical condition than he was last year.
Benjamin has fully recovered from surgery to repair the knee injury he suffered after being acquired from the Carolina Panthers last Oct. 31 for a third-round draft pick.
His history of physical ailments and tendency to get out of shape have played a role in his falling short of the high expectations that came with the Panthers making him a first-round draft pick in 2014. The Bills have him largely because General Manager Brandon Beane, a front-office executive with the Panthers selected Benjamin, believes the receiver can live up to his potential with proper guidance and reinforcement.
It starts with coach Sean McDermott, who also was with Benjamin in Carolina when McDermott was the Panthers' defensive coordinator, and includes two new offensive coaches – coordinator Brian Daboll and long-time receivers coach Terry Robiskie.
When Benjamin is healthy, there is plenty to like about what he's capable of offering. At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he can be a matchup nightmare for most defensive backs who don't have the size or strength to keep him in check. Daboll's offense, which will incorporate plenty of the horizontal-style passing of the New England Patriots, should often put Benjamin in position where he can make plays on slant routes.
Benjamin's major problem continues to be that he doesn't have the speed or elusiveness to gain separation, which means much of the success he has is on 50-50 balls where he can out-jump defenders. As someone built to do his best work in the red zone, he doesn't fit the typical model of a No. 1 target.
Yet, he's it because there isn't anyone else the Bills can depend on.
The fact Benjamin showed up for offseason workouts leaner than he was last year is an encouraging sign that he's willing to put in the necessary conditioning work to have better stamina and also to put less stress on his joints. The key will be to stick with it through the balance of the offseason, when he and his teammates are on their own until reporting to training camp.
"Give a lot of credit to Kelvin," McDermott told reporters during OTAs. "He’s approached this offseason head-on and our training staff – in terms of our strength and conditioning staff, our medical staff – there’s a lot of people involved in getting him back to where he was X-amount of months ago. I believe we’re headed in the right direction. (There is) still work to do as we move forward here."