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New tight ends form dynamic duo


SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Tight end Greg Olsen's indoctrination into training camp Spartanburg-style included an outing with Panthers linebacker and former University of Miami teammate Jon Beason to Wal-Mart for some supplies.

"I'm driving," Beason said, "and I turned to Olsen and I said, 'Man, it feels like we're in college again. We came in together, and now we're together on the same team again.'"

The Panthers certainly hope it's like the good ole' days with their new crop of talent at tight end.

Olsen, acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bears last week, and Jeremy Shockey – signed as a free agent in March – are a part of a long line of ultra-successful tight ends produced by "the U."

Both former first-round draft picks, now teamed with offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski - also a former Hurricanes tight end - plan to provide that certain something that's been missing from Panthers tight ends since the days of Wesley Walls.

"I've heard a lot for eight years about how we've never had a fun tight end to watch. We've had some great guys, some good friends of mine, but that seems like that's been critiqued a lot," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "Well, we got our wish now, right?"

Olsen, a five-year veteran, compared his aspirations for the group to what Antonio Gates and Co. have accomplished in recent years for the San Diego Chargers – the former employers of Chudzinski (as tight ends coach) and Panthers head coach Ron Rivera (as defensive coordinator).


"Coach Chud is one of the best in the business, especially when it comes to utilizing the tight end position," Olsen said. "Shockey is a Pro Bowl guy who has accomplished a lot in his career.

"I'm looking forward to learning a lot from him. Between those two guys, they have a lot of knowledge that I'm going to pick their brain on."

On the day of his trade, Olsen got a ringing endorsement from Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith - even though the two had never met.

"He can play," Smith said. "I wanted Greg five years ago. When he was coming out, I thought he was a fantastic player. I'm going to be in awe watching him play because he can play.

"He can move pretty good for a tight end. If he lost a little weight, he could probably be an outstanding wide receiver."

Smith isn't alone in his love affair with the Panthers' newest weapons, though "love" seems a strange term to use to describe Gross' view of Shockey.

"He's kind of a wild man," Gross said. "I texted him when we first signed him, and he didn't get back to me for like two weeks. He told me, 'I was in Scotland. I flipped a kayak in Loch Ness.' He was doing an adventure race.

 "I like his attitude. You can't have 90 guys like that on your team, but you don't want to have 90 guys on the other end, either. There needs to be a mixture."


Of course, Gross wouldn't mind having a roster filled with players carrying a similar track record of success to that enjoyed by Shockey, who owns two Super Bowl rings and went undefeated his last college season.

"As excited as I am about Shockey and what he can do on the field, I think it's great to have a tough guy who has won some championships and has been on a lot of winning teams," Gross said. "The formula for winning involves bringing in veteran guys like that to teach the young guys what it takes."

As enthused as the Panthers are about their new tight ends, the new tight ends are pretty upbeat as well. While Carolina is coming off a two-win season, Olsen is coming off an NFC Championship appearance with the Bears and Shockey is coming from a New Orleans team 18 months removed from its Super Bowl XLIV victory.

Still, it sounds like the new tight ends feel like they've come out winners.

"With guys like Steve Smith on the outside, and DeAngelo (Williams) and (Jonathan) Stewart in the backfield, there are a lot of guys you're going to have to account for," said Olsen, who labeled the marriage between himself and the Panthers "a perfect fit."

"What happened last year isn't any of our concern. Two years ago, we (the Panthers) had the best record in the NFC, and it's a pretty similar team. The pieces are in place. We expect to do good things, not two or three years down the road but this year."

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