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Bene' Benwikere on PUP, Panthers could open camp with two rookie corners

Bene' Benwikere suffered a fractured ankle in a December game against Atlanta. AP Photo/Mike McCarn

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Bene' Benwikere will open training camp on the physically unable to perform list, meaning the Carolina Panthers likely will open camp with rookies as the starting cornerbacks.

Benwikere suffered a fractured ankle in a December game against the Atlanta Falcons. He did not participate in individual or team drills during offseason workouts or the June minicamp.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday as the Panthers reported to Wofford College that the third-year player will open on the PUP list so he can continue his rehab. He did not put a timetable on a return for Benwikere, suggesting anywhere from a week to 10 days was possible.

Rivera said early during the offseason that Benwikere would move from the starting nickel to an every-down corner opposite Pro Bowler Josh Norman. Then Norman's franchise tag was rescinded, and he signed with the Washington Redskins, leaving Carolina with basically two starting corners to replace.

The Panthers drafted James Bradberry in the second round, Daryl Worley in the third and Zack Sanchez in the fifth in an attempt to rebuild the secondary.

Bradberry, wearing Norman's familiar No. 24, worked with the starters most of the offseason. Worley finished the June minicamp the starters, with Sanchez playing a lot of nickel.

Benwikere will take over one of the corner spots when he returns, but until then, the Panthers will rely on rookies -- unless they opt for Robert McClain.

McClain started all three of the Panthers' playoff games, including the Super Bowl, after Charles Tillman suffered a season-ending knee injury in the regular-season finale.

The Panthers don't appear overly concerned by the circumstances, understanding it's more important to have Benwikere 100 percent when he is ready to return.

"The thing everybody needs to understand is that what he did was very traumatic to that ankle and it takes time," Rivera said. "Rather than exposing him to the work that's out there, we're going to continue to expose him to the rehab program and make sure he's 100 percent before we put him out there."

The Panthers also will be without recently signed cornerback Leonard Johnson, who will open on the non-football injury list. Johnson is on that list because he opted to have surgery on his left Achilles tendon while not under contract.

Benwikere and Johnson can be activated at any time.

"We want to be prudent," said Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman. "They're both talented. We just want to do the right thing."

Meanwhile, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (shoulder) and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin (knee) and Stephen Hill (knee) were cleared during conditioning tests to practice fully. Benjamin and Hill suffered season-ending ACL tears during camp a year ago, and Kuechly underwent offseason shoulder surgery.

Rivera said all three will be worked slowly back into full drills, despite being cleared.

"We're not going to just throw guys out there," he said. "Just because they have been given the all go, you don't want to throw guys out there that haven't been out on the field.

"Then all of a sudden they're going from 25 mph to 100 mph. We're going to be very judicious with the young men that didn't participate in OTAs or minicamps."