By Josehp Gunther
CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.
Name: Greg Olsen – TE – #88
Hometown: Wayne, NJ
College: Miami (Florida)
Experience: 8th Season
The Carolina Panthers released Steve Smith and let Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon leave via free agency. That leaves Greg Olsen and Richie Brockel as the only returning receivers – both tight ends – from last season’s team to record a catch. Brockel only had one catch, so Olsen is the only proven elite receiver on the roster.
Olsen is a proven reliable receiver with 381 receptions, 4,180 receiving yards and 36 receiving touchdowns in seven seasons while playing for the Chicago Bears and Panthers. He finished last season as the Panthers leading receiver with 73 catches, which also set a career-high in a season for him. He also posted the second most receiving yards (816) and touchdowns (six).
The Panthers acquired the 2007 first round draft pick from the Bears for a third round draft pick in the 2012 draft. Olsen and the Panthers agreed to a five-year contract extension, which is scheduled to end following the 2015 season.
Quarterback Cam Newton has yet to establish himself as a top tier passer in the NFL and not having Smith will force him to lean on Olsen more this season. Newton has thrown for 11,299 yards – decreasing steadily each year since his rookie season in 2011 – while completing 59.7 percent of his passes. However, last season, he set a career-high for completion percentage (61.7) and touchdown passes (24). But, without Smith, Newton loses 216 of his 882 career completions (just under 24.5 percent).
“It’s kind of been the storyline of the offseason,” Olsen said in a phone interview on July 23 in the Charlotte Observer. “Any time the Panthers have come up that’s kind of been the first comment made by everybody. I think guys are just kind of tired of it. I think we feel confident about our group. I think people are eager to get (to training camp), get to work and put together what works for us as an offense.”
The Panthers signed wide receivers: former Philadelphia Eagle Jason Avant, former Pittsburgh Steeler Jerricho Cotchery, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tiquan Underwood as well as former Baltimore Raven tight end Ed Dickson to reload the receiver group. They also drafted former Florida State Seminole Kelvin Benjamin of the 2014 NFL draft. Only Benjamin has the upside to be a featured receiver, but it will not be quick.
The Panthers offense does not want to rely on the pass, but needs to at some point to loosen the defense. The entire offense – even their quarterback – are run-first players, but being able to throw is a must in today’s NFL.
“It’s not a mystery. When we’re at our best, we’re a balanced offense,” Olsen also said in the July 23 phone interview. “We’re not going to throw the ball 60 times a game. We might not throw 50 touchdowns. But we’re going to win games, we’re going to control the game.
“The sum of our parts is going to be very productive.”
Olsen will be an integral part of the Panthers passing offense early in the season as Newton builds chemistry with his new wide receiver weapons.
Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. Joseph is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.