Spartanburg, S.C. — On the day he became the Panthers de facto No. 1 wide receiver, Devin Funchess wore a white, floppy hat, had a wrap around his right leg and spent all of the two-hour practice on the sideline.
A hamstring injury has interrupted Funchess’ learning process until next week, when it will resume in earnest.
Kelvin Benjamin’s season-ending knee injury Wednesday left Funchess as the top candidate to take over Benjamin’s spot as the X receiver.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said that’s a lot to put on a rookie, even though Benjamin thrived in that role last season.
But Funchess, a second-round pick from Michigan, was already thinking big before Benjamin went down awkwardly and tore his ACL on Wednesday against the Dolphins.
“It was always my expectation for it to be a big year. It just so happened that occurred (Wednesday),” Funchess said Thursday. “So I guess everybody will expect more on my plate.”
While it will be difficult for Funchess to duplicate the success Benjamin had as a rookie, Carolina coach Ron Rivera said Funchess is ready to handle all the Panthers already have dumped on his plate.
Rivera says Funchess’ high football IQ will soften the slope of his learning curve.
“Absolutely, that should help a lot,” Rivera said. “He is really a solid young man.
“He knows two positions, and obviously he’ll concentrate on Kelvin’s and work to handle that spot for us.”
While no one has Benjamin’s combination of size (6-foot-5, 245 pounds), strength and catch radius, the 6-4, 225-pound Funchess comes closest.
“We drafted Devin Funchess for a reason and this is one of them,” Rivera said. “You want to have a big, quality receiver, and Devin gives us that still.”
Funchess had a close-up view of Benjamin’s injury, which came during 1-on-1 drills. Funchess was next in line.
But instead of taking his rep, Funchess took a knee next to Benjamin and said a quick prayer.
When he saw Benjamin’s left knee buckle, Funchess feared the worst.
“You hate to see a guy get hurt. That’s what happened,” Funchess said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Funchess will miss Saturday’s home exhibition against the Dolphins.
Funchess was Michigan’s leading receiver with 62 catches for 733 yards and four touchdowns last season after playing tight end his first two years.
Funchess said he wouldn’t let Benjamin’s injury faze him.
“There’s never pressure,” Funchess said. “You come to play this game of football. You know everybody is going to get hurt at one point in time.
“You knew that since you were little. You’re just on a bigger stage now.”
Buffalo 11, (at) Cleveland 10: Johnny Manziel threw a touchdown pass and maybe closed the gap on Browns presumed starting quarterback Josh McCown in their loss to the Bills.
Buffalo’s EJ Manuel, attempting to beat out Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor for the starting job, threw a 14-yard TD pass to Andre Davis with 1:31 left. He then connected with rookie Bronson Hill for the 2-point conversion to complete a late rally by the Bills (1-1).
Manziel had one last chance, but he couldn’t pull off any magic as the Browns (0-2) dropped their second straight exhibition at home.
Manziel connected with rookie Shane Wynn on a 21-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter. Playing against Buffalo’s backups, Manziel finished 10-of-18 for 118 yards and made one of those Johnny Football plays that made him an electrifying college star.
A Baltimore jury has found Darren Sanders, director of security for the Ravens, not guilty of charges that he groped a stadium worker after a game.
Two of the most significant offseason acquisitions for the Cardinals are injured; one — starting nose tackle Corey Peters — is lost for the season.
Peters tore his left ACL during practice Wednesday.
Starting left guard Mike Iupati will undergo surgery for a torn left meniscus.
Coach Bruce Arians says Iupati is out 3-8 weeks.
... The Vikings lost offensive tackle Carter Bykowski to a torn pectoral muscle, and coach Mike Zimmer says he might be out for the season.
... Jets offensive lineman Oday Aboushi has been suspended one game without pay by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Associated Press contributed