Entering his eighth NFL season, Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin may actually be flying under the radar.
"I hope so," he said after day four of organized team activities (OTAs). "They need to double Keenan [Allen], double Mike [Williams] and hopefully I just come open each and every time I'm on the field."
Last season, a foot injury hampered the 29-year-old Benjamin. He caught just 12 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown in 12 games. With wide receiver Tyrell Williams departing via free agency to the Oakland Raiders, a healthy Benjamin and his "rare" speed will be counted on in 2019, according to Head Coach Anthony Lynn.
"He was hurt last year," Lynn said of Benjamin. "He came back, he tried to work through it. It didn't quite work out. We didn't need him to be honest with you. We had depth last year at the position. But his big-play potential, it's been good for us. He's going to be on the field more this year because Tyrell's gone. So, hopefully we see more of those big plays."
Despite his limited production in 2018, Benjamin came up clutch in the two biggest regular-season wins of the season.
With the Chargers down 13-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 13, he caught a 46-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers for the team's first score of the game. Los Angeles would mount a second-half comeback to beat the Steelers 33-30 at Heinz Field.
Two weeks later, Los Angeles trailed the Kansas City Chiefs 28-21 late in the fourth quarter at Arrowhead Stadium. On a first-and-20, Benjamin hauled in a 31-yard reception from Rivers that moved the ball into Kansas City territory. Four plays later – a fourth-and-7 with the game on the line – Rivers hit Benjamin in stride for a 26-yard completion.
Mike Williams' third touchdown of the game and subsequent two-point conversion were the deciding scores in L.A.'s 29-28 win over the Chiefs, but none of it happens without Benjamin.
"He's made a number of big plays for us through the years," Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.
In a "what have you done for me lately?" league, it's easy to forget the impact that Benjamin can have on a game. Of his 10 total touchdowns with the Chargers, seven were plays of 38 yards or more. He's averaged 15.4 yards per reception during his NFL career.
When he's not the one making a chunk play, his speed can set up his teammates to do so. Whisenhunt said defenses take notice when the versatile Benjamin's on the field. This affords other playmakers opportunities to strike.
Benjamin isn't concerned about touches so long as the offense is scoring and the team is winning.
"I love it," he said. "When the [ball's not coming to me] and I see Hunter [Henry] or Keenan behind me when I take the safety or the DB with me, I smile to myself. I'm like, 'Good job,' knowing that I got those guys open. It's a team sport. Being in a role like that, when you continue to be selfless, the ball's going to eventually come your way. You just have to take advantage of it."
Benjamin thinks his consistent presence will lead to a "more explosive" Chargers offense. When asked how his role may change after the loss of Tyrell Williams, Benjamin laid it out simply.
"Hopefully it changes for the better," he said. "More plays, more opportunities for me to showcase my skillset … and ball out."
Take a look through the top workout photos as the Bolts keep grinding during OTAs.
Competition heating up among punters, long snappers
Lynn said that a majority of the offseason position battles will start to take shape when players put the pads on.
Special teams are the exception.
"If you're watching those punters, that's a heck of a competition right now," Lynn said. "Long snapper – that's going to be a good competition."
Mike Windt is entering his 10th season as the Chargers' long snapper. His competition is Cole Mazza, a former member of the Alliance of American Football's Birmingham Iron. Mazza played his college football at Alabama.
Ty Long and Tyler Newsome are the punters going toe-to-toe during OTAs. Long most recently played for the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. Newsome is an undrafted free agent rookie from Notre Dame.
"Kicking the ball and putting them in situations where they're competing against one another in front of the whole team [when] everyone's watching, that helps a little bit." Lynn explained. "That's a unique position where you don't get to do that a lot with the other positions."
While offseason competition is important, Lynn said that preseason games will ultimately decide the victors.
CB Trevor Williams looks 'outstanding'
After a 15-start season in 2017, cornerback Trevor Williams suffered a knee injury last year that limited him to just nine games.
Lynn said Monday that Williams has regained form and is ready to compete for a starting position in the secondary.
"Trevor looks outstanding," Lynn said. "His confidence is back and he's playing like it in practice right now. His change of direction is night and day. So, it's going to be a nice little competition over there between him and Michael Davis."
Over the last two seasons, Williams and Davis – both undrafted free agents – have started a combined 31 games opposite Casey Hayward. Pro Football Focus graded Williams as the NFL's 10th-best cornerback in 2017 (88.5).
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