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Olsen putting it all together

Posted Dec 28, 2012

CHARLOTTE – Greg Olsen has put together one of the best seasons for a tight end in Panthers' history.

With a career-high 65 receptions, he's already broken Wesley Walls' franchise record of 63. Entering the season finale at New Orleans, he needs just 23 yards to break Walls' single-season yardage record of 822. Olsen also boasts a team-leading five touchdown receptions.

"I think it's been my best year," Olsen said.

Teammates, coaches and Olsen himself felt it was Pro Bowl worthy.

But Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez and Dallas' Jason Witten were tabbed as the NFC's Pro Bowl tight ends, and Olsen wasn't named an alternate.

"I was a little surprised, to be blunt," Olsen said. "I thought I had as good a season as anybody.

"Witten and Gonzalez – it's hard to argue. Those guys are Hall of Fame type players and had unbelievable seasons this year. I did expect to be one of the alternates, but it is what it is."

Among tight ends, Olsen ranks sixth in the NFL in receptions and fifth in yards. But a contribution that isn't measured statistically has made Olsen invaluable to the Panthers' offense.

In addition to his pass-catching prowess, Olsen has made tremendous strides as a blocker.

"You have to think about where he fits and what we're doing and how we're doing it to realize how important he is to us," head coach Ron Rivera said.

It's rare to see Olsen on the sideline for an offensive play. When he's not running routes, the coaching staff utilizes him as a run blocker and pass protector, so there's no reason for him to leave the game.

"You don't play every down in the NFL if you can't block. You can't hide," Olsen said. "I take a lot of pride in never coming out. And in order to play every play, you have to do it all."

There aren't many tight ends who do it all.

When Olsen was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in 2007, many doubted his blocking ability. Some still do.

"That's always been the knock on me," said Olsen, who admitted he wasn't the greatest blocker early in his career. "But the funny part is the people that make that knock don't watch the tapes."

Most tight ends are considered pass-catchers or blockers – not both.

Fellow-tight end Ben Hartsock will be the first to say he's carved out a role as a blocking tight end.

"I've made a career out of it," Hartsock said.

And Hartsock has taken notice of Olsen's dedication to expanding his role as an every down, every situation tight end.

"Greg is one of the top, well-rounded tight ends in the league," Hartsock said. "There's really only a few guys that are able to be a three down kind of tight end, all situation type of a player.

"The first thing is that he wants to do it. Want to is a big part of that. He's a student of the game. He studies film and he's worked at it. He's made tremendous improvement over the last year, and I think he's going to get better."

Due to his versatility, there are times when Olsen – who is the team's second leading receiver behind wideout Steve Smith – will line up in the backfield to pass protect on obvious passing third downs.

"A lot of third downs I'll be in the backfield," Olsen said. "We'll send three receivers out into the route and I'll stay in and (block)."

To some pass-catchers, that would be frustrating. 

Not Olsen.

"I like it. I take as much pride in doing all that stuff," Olsen said. "The coaches have a lot of confidence that I can do the difficult blitz pickups.

"They ask the tight end around here to do a lot of different things. There are not a lot of guys out there that wear that many hats and also are productive in the passing game."

But Olsen has put it all together.