Carolina Panthers

For Panthers WR Devin Funchess, this season is different. So is his preparation

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) is in a contract year at just 24 years old, and is ready to make an impact as the team's No. 1 receiver.
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) is in a contract year at just 24 years old, and is ready to make an impact as the team's No. 1 receiver. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

It's difficult sometimes to remember how young Devin Funchess is.

And how much pressure is on him in 2018.

For one, he was a tether point in the overhaul of a Carolina Panthers' receiving corps that has been revamped and restructured over the past year or so, including October's surprise trade of Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo. General manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera decided Funchess could be the team's No. 1 receiver, and added players who are complementary to him.

Funchess also is in the last year of his rookie deal, and because he was a second-rounder back in 2015, there is no fifth-year option available in his contract.

In short, this is a money-makin' year for the former Michigan star.

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) is in the final year of his rookie contract, putting more emphasis on the need to perform as the team's No. 1 wide receiver.

Another thing: The responsibility now on Funchess as the Panthers' No. 1 receiver is vast. There are more veteran players now in the room, including Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright, but the expectation of Funchess is that he, as the most-practiced target of quarterback Cam Newton and the "X" receiver, be a star in a division full of big-name receivers.

And yet another thing: He's expecting his first child this fall.

It's a lot to handle, for a guy who just celebrated his 24th birthday last week.

"I just went back home and all my little cousins, they're getting old. So it made me feel old," he said. "But out there on the field, I know I'm kind of young. I'm taking it in, going out there, protecting myself and trying not to get hurt, learning the playbook as fast as I can so we can go out there and play fast."

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Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess (17) makes a reception during organized team activities on Tuesday, May 29, 2018. Funchess implemented a stricter training regimen this offseason so that he could be ready to be an impact player in the final year of his rookie deal. David Foster dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Ahead of his contract year, Funchess has gotten some sage advice about longevity in the NFL from a man he called his "cousin" — five-time All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates.

"I had a lot of talks with (Gates) and he just has said to be the same guy, take everything in and play as long as you can," he said. "I've kind of got the same mentality as him. Chasing greatness, trying to be the best me."

A different approach

Funchess also said he approached this offseason differently than he has in the past.

Instead of splitting his time between Michigan, his home state, and Miami, where he trains in the summer, he stayed in Miami.

"I just had a different focus about it," he said. "Got my body back together. Did intense rehab down there, and just made sure I'm in tip-top shape. Did a lot of beach workouts down there with (Falcons receiver Mohamed) Sanu and some other guys, just trying to perfect myself."

Rivera has noticed.

"You're beginning to see it even more so, that he's (grasping) what's going on and I think that's a big part of his development," Rivera said after Tuesday's practice. "He's getting an opportunity to be 'the guy' in the room, and he'll take it. And I think it's been really good. He's embracing it, and I think that's a big thing. For him, he can only get better. So I'm excited about that."

Panthers' Ron Rivera talks about the goals he's looking for out of the team, and the progress of the offense under a new offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Back from injury

Last season, Funchess saw success immediately after Benjamin was traded and he moved to the "X." He had 405 yards in the five games following the trade, averaging 17.14 yards per catch.

But then he banged up his shoulder and played hurt for the rest of the year, including during the Panthers' wild-card loss at New Orleans.

Funchess said he's played through injury every year since he was drafted. But this spring, he's healthier than he's been in a long time and ready for more.

"It showed me how to play hurt in a different area of my body," he said of his previously injured shoulder. "Every year I've played hurt. It's just different to adjust to it. ... I went through adversity and I handled it."

Then, with a wink ...

"If it happens again, I'll be able to ...

... shoulder it."

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