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Position preview: Tight ends

Posted Jul 14, 2012

The tight end position – often referred to as a quarterback's security blanket – has evolved into much more than that in today's NFL.

In addition to providing a safety valve in the passing game and paving the way for rushers, tight ends across the league are consistently utilizing their size and athleticism to stretch the field with explosive plays. In Greg Olsen, the Panthers have a player capable of doing just that.

2011 was Olsen's first season with the Panthers, and it was a year in which the club's tight ends produced a record-setting season. With Olsen leading the position group, the Panthers will look for more of the same in 2012.

RETURNERS

Greg Olsen
Finished third on the team with 45 catches for 540 yards and five touchdowns in 2011, his first year in Carolina after being dealt from Chicago. ... Combined with other Panther tight ends to catch 85 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, the most productive season by a set of tight ends in team history. ... Led the Bears in receiving touchdowns in 2010, 2009 and 2008.

Gary Barnidge
Spent the entire 2011 season on injured reserve for Carolina after suffering a fractured left fibula and dislocated left ankle during a preseason practice. ... Played in all 16 games with three starts for Carolina in 2010.

Ben Hartsock
Primarily used as a blocking tight end, Hartsock opened holes for the Panthers to lead the NFL with a team record 5.41 yards per carry and establish a team record with 139 rushing first downs in 2011. ... Marked sixth time in last seven seasons where he blocked for a 2,000-yard rushing team that finished in the top five in the NFL.

Richie Brockel
Has the versatility to line up at fullback, and did so often in 2011. ... Scored his first career touchdown at Houston in Week 15 when Cam Newton took snap and placed the ball between Brockel's legs and into his hands as Brockel remained stationary. Newton faked running an option to the right and Brockel took off around the left side untouched into the end zone.

Greg Smith
Spent the 2011 campaign on the Panthers practice squad. ... Played in 52 games with 15 starts at Texas. ... Lined up at tight end, all five offensive line positions and long snapper in college.


ROOKIES

Nelson Rosario
Signed as an undrafted free agent. ... Played in 45 games with 23 starts at UCLA. ... Lined up at wide receiver and H-back. ... Totaled 146 catches for 2,362 yards and eight touchdowns.


RECENTLY ROSTERED

Joe Jon Finley
Signed as a free agent in May after spending time with the Lions and 49ers. ... Played in 51 games with 29 starts at Oklahoma. ... Tallied 62 receptions for 775 yards and 10 touchdowns.


Panthers.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 90-man roster leading up training camp, having previously profiled quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and the offensive line.