Greg Olsen, the only tight end in NFL history to post three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, couldn't make it four when a fluke foot injury short-circuited him like never before. Olsen had played in every game since 2008 but missed half of the games last season. Gone along with his streak is his main form of support in Ed Dickson, who signed with the Seahawks after four seasons in Carolina.
1) How well will Olsen bounce back?
Things were hit-and-miss for Olsen once he returned for good from his foot injury late last year, but his hits were big ones that bode well for 2018. Olsen's first full game back in Week 14 (he had one catch Week 12 before departing early) brought to an end his streak of 82 consecutive games with a catch, and he totaled just four catches over the final two games of the regular season. But in between he torched the Packers for 116 yards on nine catches in Week 15, and he racked up eight receptions for 107 yards in a playoff loss at New Orleans.
Consistency has been key for Olsen throughout his career, and coming off an injury at 33 years old, "consistency" is the keyword. Those late-season games showed he remains plenty capable; he could compete for NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Olsen played nine seasons in Carolina and finished his career ranked third all-time in receiving yards and receptions in franchise history and first among tight ends.
2) How will Norv Turner impact Olsen's game?
The veteran offensive coordinator was the architect from afar of the Panthers offense that Olsen joined in 2011 (directed by Turner protégé Rob Chudzinski), and now Olsen gets to play for Turner. The two worked well together during offseason workouts, with Olsen taking the transition in stride.
Turner was head coach with heavy involvement on offense during the heyday for Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, and Olsen has a similar skill set. Olsen can work the seams against a defense as well as anyone, and if Turner successfully emphasizes Cam Newton's deep ball, the seams could increase inside. Turner also has been known to frequently use two tight-end sets.
3) Where will Olsen's support come from?
In recent years that second tight end was predominantly Dickson, who was solid throughout his Panthers tenure and spectacular on occasion (175 yards at Detroit!) during Olsen's absence. Carolina hopes it has added an even more dangerous offensive weapon in fourth-round draft pick Ian Thomas, but he's raw. How big of an impact Thomas can have as a rookie after playing basically one year of major college football remains to be seen, but the potential is there to be sure.
Chris Manhertz served as the second tight end during Olsen's injury, and Turner has expressed confidence in the former basketball player's ability. Manhertz did suffer a foot injury late in offseason workouts that could cost him some practice time at training camp. Recent addition Jason Vander Laan is an intriguing prospect, a prolific college quarterback still learning how to be a consistent blocker but already seemingly well-adjusted to the receiving aspects of the game.