Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera: Devin Funchess ‘learning to play stronger’

Carolina Panthers rookie WR Devin Funchess (17) has to play stronger, coach Ron Rivera says, to realize his potential.
Carolina Panthers rookie WR Devin Funchess (17) has to play stronger, coach Ron Rivera says, to realize his potential. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera put to bed any questions about whether Cam Newton’s third interception was the quarterback’s fault.

On third-and-5 in the third quarter, Newton fired a pass to rookie receiver Devin Funchess that went off Funchess’ hands and was intercepted by Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Rivera said Funchess has to make that catch.

“Without a doubt,” Rivera said. “Devin’s got the ability, too. He’s learning to play stronger. He’s getting off the line of scrimmage better. He’s being more forceful. Now he’s got to put it all together. Now he’s got to make those types of catches.”

Funchess has just six catches through six games for 82 yards and no scores. He has nearly as many drops as catches.

Against Seattle Funchess had three drops, which he attributed to trying to run after the catch rather than focusing on making the catch. He came back to make two big catches in the fourth quarter.

And against Philadelphia, Funchess responded to the drop with a catch on first-and-20 to get the first down at midfield.

Rivera likened the early season struggles of the second-round pick to Kelvin Benjamin’s last year. Benjamin, the first-round pick in 2014, had troubles with drops and lazy route running early in his rookie season, though he was further along in his development than Funchess.

“I’d absolutely love to see him make that play,” Rivera said. “It’s kind of like that situation with Philly (Brown), and everybody knows he had a horrible preseason. But we saw him make a couple of catches (last night) that he’s capable of. That’s the same thing with Devin. We’ve seen him make those catches in practice. We think we have that kind of ability and he’s just got to be more consistent.”

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