Panthers' Cam Newton taking Devin Funchess under wing

The Panthers will need Devin Funchess to become Cam Newton's new favorite target this season. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton developed instant chemistry with Kelvin Benjamin after the Florida State wide receiver was selected in the first round of the 2014 draft.

They were like brothers almost immediately, whether they were combining for big plays on the field or delivering Christmas presents to students of local schools off the field.

Newton didn’t return to practice on Wednesday when Benjamin suffered a season-ending ACL injury until he helped the 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver onto the cart. He predicts there will be “hell to pay" when Benjamin returns in 2016.

Meanwhile, look for Newton to build a similar relationship with 2015 second-round pick Devin Funchess.

“He has to learn at an accelerated rate, but I’m taking him up under my wing," Newton said after Friday’s preseason victory over Miami. “I have full confidence in Devin that he gets it, sooner rather than later."

Funchess sat out of the 31-30 victory against the Dolphins with a tight hamstring, but he is expected to be ready for Friday night’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

The plan was to have him on the field for Monday's 2:30 p.m. ET practice as the Panthers begin the Charlotte practice phase of their preseason.

At 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, Funchess is the best option to replace Benjamin as the No. 1 receiver.

“He’s a competitor," Newton said of the former Michigan star. “He’s a guy that wants to be great. We talk often. I’m pretty much a person that he can trust and that I know I can trust when the game comes on the line. We just need to get him to 100 percent."

Newton still will miss Benjamin, not just because of the 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, but because they were so close. Newton knew better than most how hard Benjamin has been working to be better in 2015.

“This game goes way beyond the lines," Newton said. “It’s a relationship that we created, somewhat brotherly like."

Newton has kept in touch with Benjamin constantly since the injury.

“There is no need to cry about it now," he said. “When I went to see him -- and I still talk to him daily -- he’s in good spirits. Every time I text him, every time I call him, he’s always, ‘Go out there and do your thing. Lead them boys.'

“When I hear from him, that kind of puts it in perspective that if he’s upbeat about it and knowing that when he comes back it’s going to be hell to pay, it kind of inspires me to become better and do my job as well."