CHARLOTTE – Greg Olsen produced team-record receiving numbers for tight ends each of the past two seasons, but he could be receiving a helping hand in 2014.
"It's a personnel group I believe in. It poses a lot of problems for defensive fronts," head coach Ron Rivera said when asked whether the Panthers might feature more two-tight end sets. "We have a plethora of veteran tight ends to the point where we didn't bring in a rookie. Those six guys are all competing, and all six have NFL experience and an opportunity to contribute to the team."
Halfway through offseason training activities (OTAs), Rivera said he likes what he's getting from the group. It should again be headed by Olsen, but it now also includes Ed Dickson, who caught 100 passes for 1,026 yards over the past three seasons as a part of a balanced group of tight ends in Baltimore.
The Panthers' tight ends have put up similar numbers in each of Rivera's three seasons – in the 900-yard range. But while tight ends not named Olsen totaled nine catches for 120 yards over the last two seasons, Jeremy Shockey put up similar numbers to Olsen in 2011, when they combined for 82 catches, 995 yards and nine touchdowns.
Carolina ranked fifth in the NFL in scoring offense in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, the Panthers ranked 18th.
Dickson and fellow unrestricted free agent signing Mike McNeill have proven playmaking ability, while last year's additions – Brandon Williams and D.C. Jefferson – are developing pass-catchers. Richie Brockel, entering his fourth season with the Panthers, has proven a jack of all trades.
"With an extra tight end in the game, you can do so many different things," Rivera said. "Depending on who the tight end is, you can line him up as a fullback, as another wide receiver or as a wing tight end. It's going to give us a lot more versatility with what we do."
OPTIONS ABOUND: The wide receiver spot also features an intriguing mix of veterans and promising prospects – and plenty of them. While the perceived top half-dozen among the 12 on the roster have generated plenty of offseason chatter, Rivera highlighted another pair following the fifth of 10 OTAs.
"De'Andre Presley has been doing a really nice job," Rivera said of the former Appalchian State standout. "He's a young man we brought in last year on the practice squad that kind of did everything for us. We've put him at wide receiver, and he's flashing in the slot right now. He has caught my eye."
Presley was a cornerback on the practice squad last season after playing corner, wide receiver and quarterback in college.
Rivera also sang the praises of another local product in Charlotte native and former Wofford receiver Brenton Bersin, who also spent last season on the practice squad.
"He's got some ability, he really does, and with some guys it just takes a little bit of time," Rivera said of Bersin, who also attended training camp with Carolina in 2012. "He came from Wofford, which is notorious for being a tremendous running team, and he blocked very well for them. We know he can block, and he's learned how to run the routes.
"He's done a great job. He's going to be one of the guys competing, just like De'Andre Pressley."
NEWTON NEWS: The tight ends and wide receivers didn't catch any passes on the side Wednesday from quarterback Cam Newton, who had hoped to make it to the practice field but instead got in some important work inside Bank of America Stadium.
"He was going to come out here today, but they decided to keep him in and do some extra physical therapy, using the underwater treadmill so he can do a little bit of running," Rivera said. "He's progressing. It's all a part of the rehab."
Newton, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery, will find out later this week if he'll land on the cover of the Madden 15 video game. Fans can vote through Friday.