Before Ron Rivera’s mid-practice tirade Monday morning, Carolina Panthers assistant coach Pete Hoener stretched his own vocal cords when addressing a group of young tight ends.
Hoener could be heard loudly suggesting that if any of them wanted to quit, well, there was the road that would take them off Wofford’s campus.
None of them took Hoener up on the offer, although several of the veteran tight ends are beginning to separate from the pack of a big position group.
After finishing last season with three tight ends, the Panthers brought seven to training camp. They range from 10-year veteran Greg Olsen to newcomer Eric Wallace, the former Aussie Rules Football player who hasn’t played American football since the eighth grade.
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For Wallace and rookies Beau Sandland and Braxton Deaver, they’re learning that tight ends in the Panthers’ offense are required to do more than “just run around and hope the ball gets thrown to you,” as Olsen put it.
While some teams employ separate tight ends who specialize in blocking or receiving, Hoener expects his tight ends to do it all.
“There’s only so many guys that are going to play tight end in this offense,” Olsen said recently. “There’s a lot of big, tall guys that can just run around and catch the ball. But you’re not going to catch any balls around here as a young guy until Pete sees you hit that (blocking) sled 1,000 times.”
There’s not much time for playing cards or lounging around Wofford’s student center for Olsen and Co.
Maybe in college or even guys that play on other teams don’t realize here when you play tight end, you’re going to play every down and be expected to know the whole offense.
Greg Olsen, on playing tight end for the Carolina Panthers
The tight ends are part of the passing game installations with wide receivers and quarterbacks and the running game installations with the offensive line. They also are expected to know the pass protections and the route adjustments against certain coverages.
“You do pretty much everything except throw it,” Olsen said. “I think for these young guys it’s kind of a rude awakening. Maybe in college or even guys that play on other teams don’t realize here when you play tight end, you’re going to play every down and be expected to know the whole offense.”
“But these guys have done a great job. They’re smart. They want to do well. They ask a million questions, which is good.”
Simonson separating himself
One of those young guys is Scott Simonson, who was on the Panthers’ Super Bowl roster last season after being promoted from the practice squad.
With the Panthers drafting Sandland in the seventh round and adding Deaver (an undrafted rookie from Duke) and former Panthers tight end Marcus Lucas (on waivers from Chicago), it was fair to question where Simonson would fit.
But a good start to camp has helped Simonson hang on to the No. 3 spot behind Olsen and Ed Dickson entering Thursday’s exhibition opener at Baltimore.
“Scott Simonson is certainly playing himself onto the roster, that’s for sure,” Rivera said Monday. “He’s done some really nice things and he just has to continue that and be consistent.”
Simonson said he wasn’t surprised when the Panthers began collecting tight ends like deck furniture during the offseason.
“That’s the NFL. If there’s no competition, there’s really no point,” Simonson said. “I know last year we only had three tight ends after I got pulled up Week 7. We had three tight ends the entire year.”
The Panthers typically have kept four tight ends active and started last year with four before Brandon Williams was waived and Richie Brockel was placed on injured reserve.
A do-it-all history
Simonson caught more than 100 passes for 1,500 yards at Division II Assumption College, the Massachusetts school where Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly played.
Simonson said he was a do-it-all tight end at Assumption – “and here it’s just that times 100.”
“As Greg says all the time,” Simonson said, “you’ve got to run 40 yards down field one play and then the next play block a 280-pound guy.”
Olsen has posted the most prolific receiving seasons by a Panthers tight end the past two seasons, racking up 84 catches for 1,104 yards in 2015 to break the records he set (73 catches for 1,008 yards) the previous year.
But at 6-5 and 255 pounds, Olsen admits his blocking remains a work in progress – as it does for many of the Panthers’ relatively light tight ends.
“But we’re not going to come out of the game,” Olsen said. “We’re not going to substitute in and out. We’re not looking to the sideline for personnel groupings. We’re going to roll.
“And if it’s a pass and you’ve got to pass block, you’ve got to block. If it’s a run block, you’ve got to go. You don’t get to just pick and choose doing the things that we do well. I think that’s easy. ... You just have to roll with whatever’s called.”
Panthers’ tight ends fill multiple roles in team’s offense. A look at the seven TEs currently on the roster:
Comment: Posted the most prolific receiving seasons by a Panthers TE the past two years.
Comment: Hasn’t had many balls thrown his way given Olsen’s success.
Comment: First player at Division II Assumption College to make a 53-man roster.
Comment: Spent past two seasons on practice squads with Carolina, Miami and Chicago.
Comment: Seventh-rounder finished at Montana State after starting career at Miami.
Comment: Charlotte native signed after going undrafted out of Duke.
Comment: Played three years of Aussie Rules Football after Division I basketball career.