CHARLOTTE -- A team doesn't necessarily need massive pass-catching totals from its tight ends to win.
The Panthers' 2008 tight end complement of Jeff King,
But that put the Panthers in some good company. A majority of the teams with 11 or more regular-season wins last year -- five of nine -- had 40 or fewer catches from their tight ends. That group doesn't include the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, whose tight ends collectively amassed just 25 catches, the second-lowest total in the league.
Carolina's tight ends were valuable, with Rosario's last-second touchdown reception at San Diego in Week 1 being arguably the most vital catch of the 2008 season. But their worth was measured more in the holes they helped blast open for running backs
"If it's not broke, don't fix it," King said. "I think that we were really successful running the ball and I don't think that we should stray too far from that. But we would like to get our fair share of touches every now and then."
Until then, King and the tight ends will make their impact however they can.
BREAKING DOWN THE TIGHT ENDS:
With 31 regular-season starts and 67 receptions the last two seasons, the 26-year-old King is the incumbent as he enters his fourth season. Joining King is an intriguing quartet of prospects, including a former professional baseball player, a college walk-on and a pair of young veterans.
ROSARIO THRUST INTO THE SPOTLIGHT with his back-of-the-end-zone leap at San Diego last September, which capped a seven-catch, 96-yard performance that helped the Panthers overcome the absence of suspended wide receiver
If Rosario is to make a push for additional playing time, he'll need to overcome back surgery that kept him out during organized team activities. He was on the sideline watching, however, and is expected to be back when training camp begins.
WITH ROSARIO INJURED, BARNIDGE SAW MORE TIME on the field during OTAs, working as the No. 2 tight end behind King and seeing plenty of work with the first unit in two-tight end formations. The extra on-field time was valuable for the second-year veteran, who played in 15 of 16 regular-season games and the divisional playoff last year but did not record a reception.
"Gary's a guy that we obviously thought well enough of and drafted him a year ago," Fox said. "This game is like any job, the more you do it the better you get."
Barnidge's pedigree is similar to that of Rosario and King; like them, he was a fifth-round selection. If he develops, he could become the X-factor in the Panthers' tight end corps.
CAROLINA'S THREE-YEAR RUN OF ROUND 5 TIGHT ENDS concluded this year, and the team bypassed the position entirely in the draft, opting instead to sign Rutgers product Kevin Brock two days after the draft. With no drafted rookies, the erstwhile walk-on saw an opening with the Panthers, causing him to spurn other clubs for the chance to make the Panthers.
"Honestly, it was the opportunity to play," Brock said. "They didn't draft a tight end, so it was a feel thing. They called me and showed a lot of interest. A lot of teams drafted tight ends and wanted me to come in, but those didn't seem like favorable situations. My reps wouldn't have been as much as they are here. So I feel like this has been the best choice."
So far, so good. With Rosario injured, snaps were plentiful for Brock, and he even saw some first-team work in goal-line formations during summer school.
"That's definitely a boost of confidence, that early on I can be trusted to go in and do a job," Brock said. "But from here it's just earning more trust from the coaches."
While Davie is an undrafted rookie from Arkansas, he is also the oldest Panther at the position, having turned 26 on Jan. 3. That status is owed to the three years he spent playing baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, where he advanced as far as the A-level New York-Penn League. He followed that with one season in independent-league ball with the Evansville Otters of the Frontier League before joining the Razorbacks.