Lions’ Funchess adjusts to tight end position

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Detroit Lions tight end Devin Funchess, defended by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Casey Hayward, catches a 1-yard pass for a touchdown during the first half of a preseason football game of the NFL, Friday, August 12, 2022, in Detroit.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Lions tight end Devin Funchess, defended by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Casey Hayward, catches a 1-yard pass for a touchdown during the first half of a preseason football game of the NFL, Friday, August 12, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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Devin Funchess, hoping to play in the NFL for the first time since 2019, took advantage of his opportunities in the Detroit Lions’ preseason opener.

The former Michigan star had 21 touchdown receptions for the Carolina Panthers in the first four years of his career before it was slowed by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday night against the Atlanta Falcons, Funchess had just 21 snaps on offense, but he capitalized on playing time by catching four passes for 19 yards and a touchdown. He converted a third and an 8 key breaking a tackle en route to a 9-yard gain. Two plays later, he had a tiebreak against Atlanta Falcons defensive back Tre Webb en route to another first down.

“It was just for now,” Funchess said of the hurdle. “I felt like they were just shooting at my knees, so it felt like I wouldn’t be about to get hit in the knees anymore.”

Funchess not only has to shake off the rust of not playing in an NFL game since the 2019 season, but he’s also undergoing a change in position from wide receiver to tight end. The last time he played at tight end was in his college debut with the Wolverines in 2013.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable every day,” Lions tight ends coach Tanner Engstrand said. “It’s good to see him having some production because really, as you mentioned, he hadn’t had a lot of goals and maybe production in the camp so far because he got used to feeling it in the box instead of spreading wide.

“It was really good to see him do that. Get down in the red zone, I mean he can jump out of that room. And he’s tall and athletic and long, so it was great to see him do that play in the red zone.

Funchess’ value as a catcher is well known. In 2017, he caught 63 passes for 840 yards and eight touchdowns with the Panthers. But a key part of transitioning to the short end is making blocking a new priority in his game.

Although he’s only been training with the team for a few weeks now, his positional coach came away impressed with the mindset Funchess adopts as a blocker.

“The first thing we’re going to say is ‘is he ready to do this?’ And yes, absolutely, he’s ready to do that,” Engstrand said. “And he works on it every day that we’re there. be in there, and he doesn’t shy away from any contact.

This growth, says Funchess, is the result of a tight support room.

“I just enjoy the process,” Funchess said. “Everyone in my tight room has prepared me for anything, as far as run calls, blocking and everything, so I’m just grateful for the room I’m in.”

Funchess seems to have survived the first round of downsizing. On Monday, the Lions cut tight ends from Garrett Griffin and Nolan Givan. Still, he will have to face Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, Derrick Deese and fifth-round rookie James Mitchell for a reserve role behind starter TJ Hockenson.

“It’s competition, but they love me and they teach me everything,” Funchess said. “I’m so thankful about that.”

NOTES: In addition to Griffin and Givan, the Lions also waived C Ryan McCollum on Monday, reducing their roster to 87 before Tuesday’s 85-man roster deadline. … On Wednesday, the Lions will kick off a pair of joint practices against the Indianapolis Colts. “I feel like I’ve got two games in a week, two games in two days,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “You won’t get all of those reps, but we’re still going to get over 30 reps with our starters against really good competition.”

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