Greg Olsen has his eyes on the ball

The complement to star receiver Steve Smith for whom Carolina has been endlessly searching could finally emerge this season in the form of tight end Greg Olsen.

The immensely athletic 6-foot-5, 255-pounder has long held the skills to be as much a consistent pass-catcher as blocker, and now with the departure of veteran tight end Jeremy Shockey, Olsen should receive quite an uptick in his chances to shine with the football.

“I prepare each year to try and go in and be the best guy, and even as a young guy I always played with a lot of confidence that I felt I could do anything that any of the (older) guys could,” Olsen said. “I’ve always approached it to be the main guy and be one of the top guys in the league and that never is going to change. Once it does, you’re going to be in trouble.”

The Panthers still hope that Brandon LaFell or Louis Murphy can admirably fill the second receiver slot, but head coach Ron Rivera thinks Olsen has all the tools to become a playmaker along the lines of top receiving tight ends like New England’s Rob Gronkowski or New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham.

“I think (Olsen) can be right in with them,” Rivera said. “This is going to be his first opportunity with us to step up and be the starting tight end and be the guy. You watch him catch balls and watch him run routes and you see he has the traits where he can fit right in with that group (of elite tight ends).

“So we’re excited and I think it’s an opportunity for Greg and it’s a chance I know he looks forward to.”

Olsen has long since held abundant self-belief that he has the skill to be one of the league’s best, and feels that statistics don’t always tell the true story of a player’s season. Last year in tandem with Shockey, Olsen caught 45 balls for 540 yards and five touchdowns to his counterpart’s 37 for 455 and four scores.
Those numbers in his first year with the Panthers were the third highest totals of a career where the first four seasons were spent in Chicago. The 27-year-old’s most productive season came in 2009 in his first year as a full-time starter, when he caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.

He’d shown flashes of brilliance in his previous year when he grabbed 54 for 574 and five touchdowns despite only starting seven games.

“That’s how I’ve always thought of myself,” Olsen said when asked about Rivera saying he could join the league’s elite at his position. “Sometimes situations dictate statistics and I’ve had years where I had good stats but thought my overall play wasn’t as good as it could’ve been, and others where I played good but didn’t catch as many balls as I had. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.”

“Last year with me and Shock both being here, things got a little deluded and at first glance you think you’ve had a down year, but all you can do is with the opportunities you have, and I feel like that was the case, and the two of us were pretty productive as a unit rather than as individuals.”

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