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Sanders begins his rookie campaign with the goal to be the 'next Greg Olsen' for the Panthers

240510 Rookie Mini Camp-16

CHARLOTTE — As Greg Olsen was putting together All-Pro years and setting Carolina Panthers tight end records (that still stand), Ja'Tavion Sanders was still a young pre-teen, watching from home in Texas. Sanders was still a receiver at the time—he wouldn't transition to tight end until he joined the Texas Longhorns as part of the 2021 class—but in Olsen, he saw what he could become.

"He was one of the tight ends to change the game."

Sanders praised Olsen on Saturday, following the conclusion of the Panthers rookie minicamp. The two practices were a lightened session that worked to introduce players to the pace of the league, before throwing a full slate at them. Even without quarterback Bryce Young or a full playbook to work with, there's still a good idea of what role Sanders will play.

While at Texas, the converted receiver averaged 49.5 receptions a season, with an average of 648 yards and 3.5 touchdowns. It's an area of the offense that the Panthers could desperately use.

"I played receiver in high school, so I was able to line up wherever may be and just coming from Sark's (Texas coach Steve Sarkisian) offense, he used me multiple ways where I was split out wide or at the Y. I definitely think I'll be prepared for sure."

His role with the Panthers is not as clearly defined just yet, although coach Dave Canales did say on Saturday that Sanders will play both the "F" and the "Y" roles, dependent on pass plays versus 12 personnel.

"He's a guy, you can move around a little bit more, maybe play him in the slot a little bit," Canales said, adding, "we look for those versatile type of tight ends."

It's a trait Sanders sees in past Panthers tight ends, like, for example, Greg Olsen.

"Him doing what he did here, I feel like they seen that, they seen what he did in me," Sanders said.

One things Sanders won't emulate from Olsen however, is his jersey number. Olsen wore No. 88 his entire time in Carolina. Sanders is currently donning No. 85, but his goal is to get down to a single digit; one single digit in particular.

"I'm still working for that zero."

While the jersey number is technically available, it's one coaches have told Sanders won't just be handed out.

"I feel like every rookie got to earn a number," Sanders stated. "I knew I wasn't going to have (No.) 0 coming in. So, I've already had that mindset, knowing what I got to do; come and put the work in day in day out to earn that number."

No matter the jersey number he's sporting come opening weekend, Sanders will still be drawing inspiration from No. 88.

Said Sanders, "I'm just trying to be the next Greg Olsen. I'm trying to be the new face of the offense for sure."

— The Panthers waived three players at the conclusion of rookie minicamp, waiving undrafted rookie defensive end Darius Hodges, cornerback Deshawn Gaddie, and tight end Kevin Foelsch.

View photos of the 2024 rookie class as they participate in drills on the first day of minicamp.

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