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Carolina Panthers

Devin Funchess "learning and adjusting" as No.1 WR


CHARLOTTE – Devin Funchess has relished his role as the No. 1 receiver, or "X" receiver in Carolina's offense since Kelvin Benjamin was traded after Week 8.

He's having by far his best season, with career highs in catches (61), yards (792) and touchdowns (seven) entering the regular season finale.

But as the last two games have shown, the role isn't without its challenges.

Last week against Tampa Bay, Funchess posted three catches – all in the first quarter – for 11 yards, a season low.

The week prior against Green Bay, Funchess was targeted four times and had just one reception for 19 yards.

After a five-game stretch where he averaged 81 yards per game and caught four touchdowns, defenses are wisely devoting additional attention to No. 17.

"He's got to find ways to get open," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He's learning and adjusting to the fact that now he is that guy that's getting the double, he's getting the over and under coverage, he's getting sliced coverage with guys inside and outside of him.

"It's a progression for him in terms of his learning. Being the number two is a little bit different – not necessarily the guy they roll to, not necessarily the guy they double."

Tight end Greg Olsen is quite familiar with facing that kind of challenge. For years, he's dealt with a wide array of tactics – press at the line, rolling coverage over the top or being bracketed.

"It's hard. Success, sometimes, is tough. The more success you have, the more eyes are on you, the more (defenses) worry about you during the week," Olsen explained. "That's the way it goes. That's the challenge. Good players face that. It's a good problem to have, but yeah, you have to dig deeper into things you can do to get open, what teams are doing against you and how you can combat it.

"With experience, you kind of learn that on the fly. I think that's something you can only get better at when it comes up. It's hard to practice for that until it arises."

It's an important step in the 23-year-old Funchess' progression, one that takes the former second-round pick back to his college days at Michigan, where he recalls being "quadruple-teamed" on occasion.

The best receivers in the NFL find a way to produce at a high level despite the extra effort made to contain them. Every No. 1 wideout aspires to make that kind of impact.

But even if the ball doesn't come his way, Funchess knows he still has an important role to play in the success of the passing game.

"You've seen my production recently," Funchess said. "I didn't have that much production because the read takes Cam (Newton) away as soon as he sees me bracketed. But Greg went off for 100 (against Green Bay), and the others guys (Kaelin Clay and Brenton Bersin) came in last week and made plays.

"If the right play is called at the right time, I'll be able to prosper. But I just have to make sure I'm doing my job for everyone else. They can't double-team everybody."

View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Falcons.

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