CHARLOTTE – Greg Olsen recently said he wouldn't trade himself for any other tight end in the league.
Olsen has similar feelings about the other tight ends on the Panthers roster.
"We had as good an offseason as any group I've been around," Olsen said. "Guys like Ben Hartsock now have the opportunity to play outside of the normal shell that he's always in as the so-called wide blocker. He's really done a great job with the expanded role he's been given.
"Nelson Rosario is a young guy who is continuing to develop, and we know what he can do in the passing game as a former wide receiver. And Richie Brockel, you can put him anywhere.
"We have a good group."
Some observers believe the Panthers need to upgrade the position behind Olsen, who caught a career-high 69 passes for 843 yards last season. Olsen doesn't see it that way, however, and the reality is that there weren't many balls to go around behind him last season. The team's other tight ends combined for eight catches in 2012 for a team total of 77, not much different than the total of 85 in 2011 when Olsen and Jeremy Shockey more evenly shared the load.
Olsen believes that Hartsock, who caught two passes last year to bring his nine-year total to 31, could catch the ball more if called upon, a sentiment shared by general manager Dave Gettleman.
"Ben Hartsock had a terrific spring," Gettleman said. "He's a lot better than people understand. There are a lot of things that he does that bring real value to the table."
More often than last year, when the Panthers' roster included tight end Gary Barnidge, Hartsock was targeted in offseason practices.
"I hoped I changed perceptions a bit about my role," Hartsock said. "Every year you try to work on your weaknesses and improve your strengths. I felt like I did a good job of capitalizing on the opportunities I got as far as being able to run down the field some and catch some balls."
Catching balls is something that Nelson Rosario certainly knows how to do. The college wide receiver who spent his rookie season in 2012 on the Panthers' practice squad hauled in 146 passes for 2,362 yards at UCLA.
"Here's a guy that's 6-5, 245 pounds and can run and jump and catch the ball. That's a good place to start," Olsen said. "He's been a wide receiver his whole life, so everything like putting his hand on the ground was completely foreign to him. But the more he learns, the more he gets comfortable playing the true tight end position. He's a guy that can just continue to grow and develop."
Brockel, like Hartsock, is a proven commodity, a versatile player who can line up at tight end or fullback and is best known for his touchdown run on a trick play in a 2011 victory over the Houston Texans.
Brandon Williams, on the other hand, is a wildcard, a former tight end at Oregon and small-college basketball player who had given up football because of a back injury, but he was medically cleared and signed with the Panthers in April. Williams, a chiseled specimen at 6-4, 250 pounds, missed the majority of the offseason with a knee injury that led to minor surgery in late May.
"It's too bad Brandon Williams got hurt because he's a real interesting kid," Gettleman said. "Hopefully he'll get back up to speed in terms of his knee when training camp opens."
The Panthers have already seen what Olsen – acquired from the Chicago Bears in a 2010 trade – can do, and they wouldn't trade that for the world. It remains to be seen how the tight end situation will shake out behind Olsen, but the position is in good hands with him.
"When you put on the tape and evaluate more than just catches and yards - all the stuff you can do for an offense - I'd put myself up there with anybody," Olsen said. "I think I showed that I can do as much if not more than anybody in the league. I don't get substituted out on run plays or on pass-blocking plays. If there were 75 snaps, I played 75 snaps.
"There's a lot to playing tight end in this offense. We take a lot of pride in that around here, that we're not situational players."