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Panthers' Corey Brown can drop nickname but not passes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It didn’t seem like a big deal when Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown dropped the nickname “Philly’’ during the offseason.

It seemed like a big deal when he dropped two passes in the first half of Saturday night’s preseason win against Miami.

Brown insists the drops are “the last thing that’s on my mind.’’ Coach Ron Rivera can’t say the same thing.

When discussing the offense’s slow start to preseason games and expectations for Devin Funchess after the second-round draft pick fully returns from a hamstring injury, the drops came up.

“Guys like Philly have to continue to step up,’’ said Rivera, who apparently hasn’t dropped the use of Philly. “He can’t have the type of start he had last week.’’

Brown is one of several players expected to step up with No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin out for the year with a torn ACL. Brown started Saturday’s game in Benjamin’s spot.

On Carolina’s second offensive play, he caught a sideline pass from Cam Newton out of bounds. On third-and-9 on the next series, he dropped a first-down pass with no defenders close .

On Carolina’s fourth series, Brown dropped a pass in the end zone on first-and-15 from the Miami 28. A defender partially blocked Brown’s view, but the ball hit him in the hands.

Brown’s drops, along with a dropped screen pass by running back Jonathan Stewart, led to a 0-of-4 start for Newton.

Brown says he should have had both balls and that his goal for Friday night’s game against New England is “just start fast.’’

Funchess can help take pressure off Brown, who is more of a No. 2 or 3 receiver. Funchess, the 6-foot-4, 228-pound rookie out of Michigan, is closer to Benjamin (6-5, 240) in terms of running routes and creating mismatches than anybody on Carolina’s roster.

Funchess took team reps on Wednesday for the first time since straining a hamstring a week ago. Whether he will play against the Patriots depends on how the hamstring feels on Thursday and Friday morning.

But there is no doubt the Panthers are counting heavily on the former Wolverines star.

“He runs a lot of the same type routes [as Benjamin],’’ Rivera said. “He’s almost as imposing a target as Kelvin. The biggest thing with him is going to be the confidence that he plays.’’

Brown also likes what Funchess brings.

“It’s a plus for everybody to [have him] out there,’’ he said. “Devin is going to be a big part of our offense, so the faster he can get out there the better.’’

The faster Brown gets off to a faster start the better, too.