Training camp can become something of a chore for many NFL veterans, especially during practices like Monday, one of the hottest days the Carolina Panthers have endured this summer.
Tight end Greg Olsen knows the drill: The three-time Pro Bowler is entering his 12th season and this is his eighth time staying in the Wofford dorms.
But the arrival of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner and a rookie tight end have helped give Olsen a little extra juice, and prompted him to use an adjective that isn’t often applied to camp.
“This camp’s been fun. It’s been fun for me to learn a new offense, learn to do things a little different than maybe I had gotten used to in the past,” Olsen said Sunday.
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“That’s kind of been energizing a little bit, to be challenged to do something different. The way I want to run a route versus the way Norv wants to run a route — he wins the tie. So I’ve got to learn his way.”
The tight end group received a slight makeover during the offseason, when veteran Ed Dickson signed with Seattle as a free agent. The Panthers filled Dickson’s spot by drafting former Indiana tight end Ian Thomas in the fourth round.
Thomas has been impressive through the first two weeks of camp, taking advantage of the extra reps he’s received while blocking tight end Chris Manhertz recovers from a foot injury.
Manhertz is on the physically unable to perform list and might be sidelined for most or all of the preseason after June surgery to repair a Jones fracture, the same injury that kept Olsen out for nine games in 2017.
The Panthers have three other young tight ends, but could be looking to add more depth at the position. They worked out three tight ends and fullbacks after Monday’s practice.
“I’m not concerned with the depth because eventually we’ll get Chris Manhertz back out here, probably not ‘til the season starts,” Rivera said. “But for the most part I like what those guys have done.”
Thomas a steal?
Olsen, who never looked 100 percent healed last season, is running well again and catching just about everything Cam Newton has thrown him. As was the case under former coordinator Mike Shula, many of Olsen’s routes are downfield — although several have been tweaked under Turner.
“There’s some new twists to the offense – similar plays that just maybe are a little more of a priority that we’re running more often,” Olsen said. “But it’s a good combination of some carryover, but also some new wrinkles that have been a challenge for me and something that’s been fun at this stage of my career. To expand my route tree a little bit. To be challenged on how things should be done.”
While Olsen re-learns the position a bit, Thomas is getting his first taste of an NFL training camp after playing only 13 games in two seasons for the Hoosiers. The 6-4, 260-pound Thomas is a fluid route-runner who has drawn notice from teammates on both sides of the ball.
“I think that kid is going to be a really good player,” linebacker Thomas Davis said. “He’s continuing to learn and understand the NFL game. He’s learning the offense and he’s getting that stuff down. I think we really stole a pick when we got him.”
Manhertz said Thomas has been like a sponge since the Panthers drafted him.
“He runs great routes. He’s a young guy, but he’s a quick learner,” Manhertz said. “So that’s pretty good to know moving forward.”
Manhertz said he’s progressing well in his recovery, and has received tips from Olsen on what he can expect at various points in the process. But the former Canisius basketball player is “antsy” to return to action.
“My patience is being tested at an all-time high because I would love to be out there to help the team,” he said. “But you’ve got to let nature run its course and stay patient. These things usually take care of themselves.”
Meanwhile, the Panthers’ longest tenured tight end is getting a fresh start with Turner.
“We’re not reinventing football. But Norv has been as successful an offensive play-caller, an offensive designer, that this league has had for a really long time for a reason,” Olsen said.
“So it’s been fun to play for him. I really enjoy him and I’ve enjoyed learning this new offense and playing in it.”