The Panthers’ top two draft picks were unable to finish the first day of rookie minicamp Friday, and coach Ron Rivera had different levels of concern for each one.
First-round pick Shaq Thompson tweaked his hamstring midway through the second session of minicamp and sat out the final hour of practice, which was mostly a scrimmage. Second-round pick Devin Funchess left the practice field on a cart minutes before the final horn with cramps in his left calf.
Thompson, a linebacker who will miss organized team activities in June as he continues schooling at the University of Washington, slipped on the turf and tweaked his hamstring.
“That was the biggest thing was he was losing quality reps,” Rivera said after the second session. “So yeah I am concerned about that.”
There was less concern from Rivera on Funchess, the 6-foot-4 receiver who ran deep routes from three different receiver positions on the field Friday. Rivera said offensive coordinator Mike Shula was trying to put Funchess in a position to be the primary target on plays he was in.
Funchess is also a Michigan native, and the Charlotte humidity and temperature got to him.
“It’s a jump coming from 55 (degrees) to 82, so it hit me hard today,” said Funchess, who got an IV after practice and plans to participate at Saturday’s session. “My body’s got to get used to it.”
Comparisons have been drawn between Funchess and second-year receiver Kelvin Benjamin because of their body type. But Rivera shot down those comparisons Friday.
“I think probably the only thing you can compare is the size,” Rivera said. “(Funchess) is about an inch and a half shorter, probably 20 pounds lighter, but other than that I think the comparisons are a little bit different. I think Funchess is a little bit more exact in terms of underneath and inside routes. He does have a little bit more vertical speed than Kelvin.
“He doesn’t quite have Kelvin’s catch radius—they are different as far as that’s concerned. It’ll be interesting to see how those two, when they get on the field together, complement one another.”
A receiver and tight end at Michigan, Funchess comes to Carolina with the hope of becoming the Panthers’ No. 2 receiver. He’s good on intermediate routes and has some ability to be a blocking receiver, though he’s less of a blocker in rushing situations.
Friday he moved around to different receiver positions but didn’t haul in that many passes because the quarterbacks—Cole Jaeschke and Chris Bonner—were erratic as they got used to their new receivers and concepts.
“You try to make the best with what you have, so that’s what I tried to do,” Funchess said. “I can’t blame anybody but me.”
Thompson stayed up late Thursday night with second-year cornerback Bene Benwikere trying to digest the playbook while Funchess moved around the field Friday morning at three different receiver positions.
For Thompson, Carolina’s 25th overall selection in last weekend’s draft, he has to cram all he can into this weekend’s minicamp because he’ll miss organized team activities. He’s on the quarter system at Washington, and his classes will spill over into the June workouts. He will rejoin the team in Spartanburg at training camp.
“It’s very important,” said Thompson, before the injury, on getting things down this weekend. “I have to get to know the defensive playbook and terminology down on my end. I just have to keep asking questions and keep getting feedback.”
Thompson and the Panthers’ coaching staff will talk at the end of the weekend about the next few months, and the rookie even offered to have Skype sessions with his coaches if need be.
With the players not in pads and not going at game speed, it’s difficult to discern how far along a player is. But the Panthers like the versatility that Thompson offers.
Rivera plans to use Thompson as the weakside linebacker opposite Thomas Davis, but the team runs mostly out of its nickel package than a true 4-3 defense.
That means the third linebacker is usually replaced by nickel corner Benwikere. But Carolina plans to keep Benwikere on the field because of his pass-coverage abilities. That’s where Thompson’s versatility comes in.
Thompson offers the quickness and athleticism the Panthers could use if they want to take a safety off the field and run with three linebackers. He can also rush the passer, something Carolina still needs after not filling Greg Hardy’s defensive end position.
“One of the things we talk about is position flexibility, whether it’s a guy that plays the right side, the left side, the middle or whether it’s some of the hybrid stuff that we want to do,” Rivera said. “We’ve been waiting to find the right personnel and he gives us that. We’ll see how he fits into the scheme.”
The Panthers’ practice Saturday morning and could test Thompson’s hamstring during the early installation period. It’s unlikely, though, that he’ll practice Saturday since Thompson can’t undergo workouts with the team while he’s away from the facilities, and they won’t want to risk further injury just a week after the draft.
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