CHARLOTTE, N.C. – While the Carolina Panthers’ offense continues to work without the services of All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen, head coach Ron Rivera said he’s pleased with the progression of Devin Funchess.
The third-year wide receiver out of Michigan is on pace for a career-best season in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.
After Wednesday’s practice, Rivera said the key was finding ways to give Funchess the ball without necessarily taking away touches from fellow players.
“I think we could’ve found ways to get the ball in his hands better,” Rivera said. “He had a very good camp in 2016, as well, and he kind of became the forgotten guy. I think we tried to force things too much to Kelvin (Benjamin).”
Through six games, Funchess has 27 receptions for 305 yards and three scores. His 44 targets are well above where he was at this point last season, when Funchess was targeted by Cam Newton just 19 times. By comparison, Kelvin Benjamin has been targeted 38 times this season.
“Now, we’re letting things happen a lot more naturally between Kelvin and Devin, and so whatever they get, they get because that’s part of the read,” Rivera said. “And you start to see it, and again, when one guy starts making plays, making plays, you see the coverage starts kind of favoring him and it opens up things for the other guy.”
An injury to Benjamin led to a flurry of targets for Funchess that has continued over the last four games. After Benjamin the first half of the New Orleans game due to a leg injury, Funchess was the target for 10 passes. Since that game, he’s had at least eight targets per game, including his first two-touchdown game in a 33-30 victory at New England on October 1.
As the Panthers continue to put the pieces of the offensive puzzle together with rookies Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey, Rivera believes Funchess has found his niche as a reliable target on the perimeter.
“He’s really starting to emerge and I think, kind of develop his own style as to who he is,” Rivera said.
The Panthers travel to Chicago to take on the 2-4 Bears at 1 p.m. Sunday. Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.