Carolina Panthers

Panthers TE Greg Olsen could be back to help Cam Newton, in huddle and beyond

Greg Olsen returns

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen talks about his return from injury, missing the game, and expecting to play at a high level once he hits the field.
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Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen talks about his return from injury, missing the game, and expecting to play at a high level once he hits the field.

Quarterback Cam Newton was in high spirits on Wednesday afternoon when he joked that one of the reasons he’ll be happiest to have veteran tight end Greg Olsen back is so Olsen can help him call the plays.

At times, he grinned, the Panthers’ play calls are entirely too long. And he calls Olsen the “dictator” in the huddle.

“I don’t know why some of our plays are so long,” Newton cracked. “Calling a play shouldn’t be a paragraph. I was watching (Drew Brees), he called a play and I was like, ‘Nah.’ Then I told Norv (Turner), ‘We’re going to have to call that a one-liner. Panther. Tepper. Rivera.’ Something.

“I’m in the huddle, I’m already tired and I don’t have time to be saying this, that and the third, the third, the third, the third, ready-ready, break. You only get so much time.”

But what’s the “perfect length” for a play call? Offensive coordinator Norv Turner also had some fun with that question when he met with reporters on Thursday afternoon, adding that a lot of the Panthers’ calls have gotten shorter and it has “helped everyone.”

“Well, you know, we can (line) up and go ‘Dodge Lincoln,’” said Turner, drily. “And that’s a play. That’s a good number for everybody. Now, we can go up and go, ‘Shift jack right slot toy....

“...Key left, 7-8-6 drag sneak. So, I mean, you can go either way with it.”

But whether the call to get the ball to Olsen is two words or 12, Newton is just happy to potentially get his favorite target back on the field as early as Sunday at Washington.

Olsen could start for Carolina five weeks after after re-fracturing his right foot in Week 1 against Dallas.

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In 2017, he suffered a Jones fracture in the foot, which required surgical repair to insert a screw. Olsen missed a career-high nine games, but did not require a second surgery after the season.

‘Mr. Reliable’

Carolina’s passing offense ranks No. 25 in the NFL, a number skewed by the Panthers’ 140 passing attempts, which is the third-least attempted in the league (Newton has completed 67.1 percent).

The return of the guy the Panthers call “Mr. Reliable” might spark an increase.

“Without having Greg Olsen, I think they’ve changed a little bit (on offense),” Washington coach Jay Gruden said on a teleconference this week. “I think if they get him back I think we’ll see more of the tight end work.”

Olsen is a key factor on third down, but also in limiting long second and third downs in the passing game.

In 2016, his most recent full season, 45 of Olsen’s 129 targets came on first down, where he averaged 15.9 yards per catch on 33 receptions. He was also targeted 37 times on third down and had 19 catches, averaging 10.6 yards per catch.

Olsen’s presence is important away from the ball, too.

“It adds a player Cam is very comfortable with,” Turner said. “Obviously ... he will draw more attention, so it should help other guys get coverages that are friendly to them.”

One more step

Olsen practiced in a limited capacity on Wednesday, but participated fully on Thursday morning.

That means the only barrier standing between him and the field on Sunday at Washington is Friday’s evaluation with the Panthers’ medical staff.

“He moved well, and he didn’t have any issues with yesterday’s practice this morning,” coach Ron Rivera said Thursday afternoon. “That’s a good thing. Like I always tell you guys, it’s really about the next day. That’s probably the best indicator. He did a lot more today.”

Rivera added that Thursday might have been a little tougher on Olsen’s foot because of the pouring rain in which they practiced, because the field had softened.

“I think that put a little bit more stress on the foot, too, so we’ll see how it is tomorrow morning,” he said.

Carolina’s final injury report is released on Friday afternoon.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue