Before being drafted by the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver Devin Funchess was already working on catching passes from a strong-armed quarterback.
Funchess, training at Michigan, turned up the JUGS machine to its highest level to prepare for the next level. That will come in handy this week, with Funchess, the Panthers’ second-round pick, on the other end of throws from strong-armed quarterback Cam Newton.
“He’s only got one speed, so that’s all I can say,” Funchess said. “It’s fast. It comes in hot."
Newton’s velocity is a constant, but where Funchess will be on the field is not.
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Funchess has lined up at three different receiver positions since joining the Panthers last month. He’s been in positions where the Panthers usually play their No. 1 (X) and No. 2 (Z) receivers and at a spot closer to the offensive line (F receiver).
Funchess said knowing all three positions is his job, and he said he didn’t have a favorite.
“All of them,” he said. “Wherever I can go get the ball at.”
He’s gotten the ball plenty so far. He he has been one of the primary targets for Newton during organized team activities with second-year receiver Kelvin Benjamin sidelined with a hamstring strain.
Funchess has worked almost exclusively with the first-team offense the past two weeks, missing only one practice – to attend the NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles.
While not basking in Benjamin’s limitations, Funchess knows it presents him with a unique opportunity to shine.
“It puts the pressure on me to learn it because they’re going to need me out there,” Funchess said. “It’s speeding up the learning process.”
At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, Funchess could be a matchup nightmare. He gets in and out of his breaks quickly and runs good routes.
His height usually wins out against cornerbacks and his speed beats linebackers inside when he plays a hybrid tight end role.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Funchess’ strengths have been “showing his versatility and playing the different positions.”
“He’s a good route runner, he really is,” Rivera said. “And he’s shown the ability to go up and get the ball. His catch radius is really good, and with Cam it helps.”
His want to know all the positions was borne out of frustration, and he regularly looks to veterans like Jerricho Cotchery for extra tips.
“I’m a winner. I hate losing whether it’s in practice or in the game,” Funchess said. “It frustrates me when some people don’t get it so I just make sure I know everything so I can tell somebody. Just like what Cotch is doing with me in case I don’t know. It’s just making sure I know all the positions and helping everybody else out.”
In a two-minute drill at Thursday’s OTAs, Funchess hauled in a touchdown against veteran cornerback Charles Tillman. Newton whistled a pass to Funchess in the back-left corner of the end zone that the rookie nabbed out of the air.
It was one of the hardest-thrown balls all day, and Funchess brought it in for a score after months of training.
“This was a first,” said Funchess with a smile of playing with a quarterback with an arm like Newton. “(Wednesday) he got me with one. I was surprised because it was this close and,” Funchess whistled, “threw it in there like that.
“I just got to get used to it.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9