Jul. 29, 2014 @ 11:09 PM

Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin says he woke up Tuesday morning feeling "like a new man" and plans to play in preseason games.

Carolina's first-round draft pick gave the team a scare on Sunday when he injured his left knee during practice. However, an MRI Monday revealed Benjamin only has a bone bruise.

Benjamin sat out practice Tuesday.

He isn't sure when he'll return to practice, saying he'll follow the advice of the trainers.

Benjamin says he injured his left knee Sunday when it hit the ground while trying to make a catch. He says he's never had a knee injury and was relieved when the MRI revealed no structural damage.

Benjamin has been working with the starters during training camp.

He calls the injury a "minor setback."

Panthers FB Tolbert fighting to stay on top

SPARTANBURG, S.C.  — Mike Tolbert is always ready for a good fight — even during the NFL offseason.

The Panthers feisty fullback spent his downtime in a familiar setting: a sweaty boxing gym in San Diego sparring with some aspiring professional heavyweight boxers and stepping up his conditioning workouts with his trainer.

The result: the squatty 5-foot-9 Tolbert lost 13 pounds of unwanted weight to get down to 250, which he says left him faster, quicker and better conditioned than last season.

Tolbert is coming off his first Pro Bowl season and the man teammates refer to as “the bowling ball” is eager to make sure his play doesn’t slip entering his seventh NFL season.

“It’s tough, but the strong survive — and I have to be ready,” Tolbert said of the workouts.

Tolbert started boxing five summers ago in San Diego while playing for the Chargers as part of a program his trainer Dale Soliven called “cross box.” Soliven said Tolbert couldn’t get enough of it.

The two have been working together ever since.

Soliven said after watching Tolbert move in the ring he’s confident he could make it as a boxer if he wanted.

He said Tolbert recently stepped into a ring to spar with a young boxer who was preparing for his first professional fight.

“Mike was just destroying the guy. His hand speed is unreal,” Soliven said. “I had to pull Mike out of the ring and say, ‘That’s enough.’”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera could care less about Tolbert’s boxing potential. He just wants his dominant fullback in the best shape possible and cautioned that he doesn’t want Tolbert to lose too much weight. Tolbert’s power and girth, combined with his low center of gravity, is what helped him run for 361 yards and five touchdowns last season and help the Panthers win the NFC South championship, the coach said.

“I want Mike to be round,” Rivera said with a smile.


Panthers OL Wharton retires after 10 NFL seasons

SPARTANBURG, S.C.  — Panthers offensive lineman Travelle Wharton  announced his retirement at a press conference at Wofford College, about 30 minutes from he grew up and started playing the game.

Wharton, 33, played in 115 games and started 111 for Carolina. He also spent time with Cincinnati, though he never started a game for the Bengals due to injuries.

With former high school, college and NFL coaches in attendance, Wharton said goodbye to football after what he described as a difficult decision.

Wharton says, "I didn't think it was going to take this long. ... I felt it was the right time and didn't want to overdo it."

Wharton becomes the fourth Carolina offensive lineman to retire since the end of the 2013 season joining Jordan Gross, Geoff Hangartner and Jeff Byers.

The Captain: Vikings will lean on Munnerlyn a lot

MANKATO, Minn.  — Former Carolina Panthers defensive back Captain Munnerlyn started his first training camp with the Minnesota Vikings away from the action and on the sideline, placed on the physically unable to perform list so he could work his way through a minor hamstring injury.

Make no mistake, though. Munnerlyn will play the most prominent role in this team’s young secondary.

“I’m definitely a leadership kind of guy,” he said. “My name’s Captain!”

Drafting Teddy Bridgewater was the offseason move by the Vikings that created the biggest stir, given their decade-long quest to establish a long-term solution at quarterback.

Signing Munnerlyn in free agency was the most important acquisition in the meantime, however.

This is a defense that allowed an average of 30 points per game last year, the most in the league, and the root of the problem was at cornerback.

With Munnerlyn in the fold and a scheme change under new coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are banking on far better performances from their defensive backs.

Munnerlyn is tied with Charles Tillman for the most interception return touchdowns over the past four seasons, with five. He was credited last year with a career-high 13 pass breakups and 86 tackles.

With Rhodes entrenched at one spot, Robinson is in line to start at the other outside spot with Munnerlyn in the middle. Shaun Prater, Derek Cox and Marcus Sherels are the other returners in competition, and draft picks Jabari Price, from North Carolina, and Kendall James are also under consideration.

But while the evolution of NFL offenses has dictated the nickel defense to be used almost as often as the base alignment, there will be plenty of plays when only two cornerbacks are on the field. Munnerlyn doesn’t plan on being on the sideline for those.

“I’m never going to sell myself short in being just a nickel. I feel like I’m a starting corner,” he said. “I can be that guy on the outside. Yeah, I think it’s a job up for grabs, and if a job’s up for grabs I’m going to win it.”

Munnerlyn was attracted to Minnesota largely because of Zimmer and his preference to play physical, pressing coverage at the line of scrimmage. That fits his style well.

“That’s something I pride myself on, not letting my guy catch the ball,” Munnerlyn said.

The Vikings will need a lot of that from Munnerlyn to improve upon their greatest weakness of 2013.

“I’ve been happy with him. He’s very, very competitive. He likes to talk a lot on the field, so we’ve got to keep him reined in a little bit,” Zimmer said. “But that’s better than having to go the other way.”