NFC South: Ed Dickson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- "TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS!" yelled a voice from the back of the room as Carolina Panthers strong safety Roman Harper conducted a recent charity auction at an uptown restaurant.

Heads turned.

The boisterous announcement of the bid on an autographed jersey from middle linebacker Luke Kuechly came from running back Jonathan Stewart.

The seventh-year player out of Oregon typically is soft-spoken and often downright quiet to the point of seeming shy. He doesn't offer much in terms of elaboration to reporters with what normally are short answers.

So when he yelled, it seemed out of character.

"He is quiet around me," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "But when he's quiet and you see that look in his eye, he has a fire. And when that gets lit, and it is lit right now, it is fun to be around him and watch him."

[+] EnlargeJonathan Stewart
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJonathan Stewart's 437 yards rushing in the last four games are the most in the NFL.
Stewart's 437 yards rushing in the last four games are the most in the NFL. Because of injuries, he had only 516 yards in the previous two seasons combined.

He had 122 yards on 24 carries in Sunday's 17-13 victory over Cleveland. He also caught the game-winning touchdown, a 9-yard pass from Cam Newton with 7:07 left.

One could argue he's been Carolina's most valuable player in the team's playoff run. The Panthers (6-8-1) certainly will need him at his best in Sunday's showdown at Atlanta (6-9) for the NFC South title.

"He is running well and is tough to bring down," Shula said. "I know he will be ready to go this weekend, and we will have to utilize him as well as those other guys."

Stewart didn't do much in a 19-17 loss to Atlanta in Week 11. He had seven carries for 24 yards, splitting duties with DeAngelo Williams.

Williams suffered a broken hand in the first half of the next game against Minnesota. That's when Stewart took over and, as Shula said, caught fire.

He's running so well that, judging from social media, it might start a riot locally if the Panthers went back to Williams as the starter.

There's really no reason to go back. Stewart, 27, is the future. Williams, who will be 32 before next season, is at the end of his career.

The two-headed monster known as "Double Trouble'' when the two became the first backs from one team to top 1,100 yards in a single season (2009) is now a one-headed monster.

Few in the NFL are tougher to bring down than Stewart. Defensive backs, including his own, cringe when he's running at them with a full head of speed.

"I call him little Ninja Turtle," Carolina cornerback Josh Norman said. "It's unbelievable how that little man runs the freaking football. Every footstep he has, it's just a will that he has to not go down and be defeated."

That Stewart is completely healthy for the first time since ankle injuries forced him to miss 17 of 32 games the past two seasons makes his will to succeed even stronger. He's found a comfort running the ball that he finds only one other place -- on the piano.

Stewart doesn't read music like he reads defenses. He plays by ear. But he's an accomplished pianist. You'll often hear him in training camp tickling the ivory on the baby grand in the lobby outside the Wofford College cafeteria.

He has a studio in his high-rise apartment that gives him a spectacular view of Charlotte when playing and recording.

"Happy as he is, he's happiest when he's in his lab," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "His lab is making beats and playing the piano and producing music. When I see him in a zone, that's the Jonathan Stewart I know.

"He's got a lot of beats. He makes a lot of songs. He's definitely got a lot of talent in that area."

Tight end Ed Dickson went to college with Stewart, so he's been listening to the running back on the piano since their freshman season.

"He's definitely got a second career in music once he's done with football," Dickson said. "He's a very good artist."

Stewart also can sing. He shared a few Christmas notes with his fellow running backs on Wednesday, then disappeared before reporters made their way to him.

"He's got a creative side to him," coach Ron Rivera said.

For the moment, the Panthers simply need Stewart to create first downs the way he did to close out Sunday's game with a 30-yard run. As good as he is on the piano, he's better on the football field.

"I can't say that for sure in music because I'm not a guy that has an ear for it," Tolbert said. "But he's great in football."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera repeatedly defended his late-game strategy in the days following a 19-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 11.

He insisted the conservative strategy to run three times against a stacked defense after quarterback Cam Newton had completed six of his last seven pass attempts for 136 yards and two touchdowns was the right one.

He argued that had Carolina thrown an interception or fumbled, or even an incompletion to stop the clock, he would have been crucified for that. He said the only mistake was that Graham Gano’s 46-yard field goal was wide left, even though the Falcons would have had 1:22 to get in position for a potential game-winning kick.

Perhaps Rivera was caught up in the euphoria of winning two replay challenges in Sunday’s 17-13 victory over Cleveland to set up a rematch with the Falcons for the NFC South title. But upon further review the fourth-year Carolina coach seemingly admitted his conservative approach was a mistake.

His play calling late against the Browns certainly hinted strongly at it.

Faced with second-and-9 from their own 21-yard line with 2:44 remaining, the Panthers (6-8-1) let Newton throw a pass to tight end Ed Dickson that went for 34 yards.

That first down forced the Browns to use their final two timeouts before a 30-yard run by Jonathan Stewart on third-and-5 sealed it.

"You have to be [aggressive]," Rivera said. "Lessons learned. I’m not going to kid myself about that. We could have run it. But again, one of the things we do and do best is when we keep that run-pass, quarterback-keep option alive. I think it creates more things and we’ll continue to do as we go forward."

The Panthers took a similar approach the previous week. Nursing a 19-17 lead against Tampa Bay, quarterback Derek Anderson threw a 12-yard pass to Kelvin Benjamin. Two plays later, the Panthers came back with a 10-yard pass to Benjamin.

They ultimately ran the clock down to 29 seconds before punting.

Perhaps the end of the first Atlanta game was similar to the "Riverboat Ron" moment Rivera had in Week 2 last season. In case you forgot, he settled for a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-1 deep in Buffalo territory with a chance to run out the clock.

The Bills scored a touchdown in the final seconds for a 24-23 victory.

Carolina players liked the aggressive attitude Rivera had on fourth down the remainder of a 12-4 season. They appeared to like the late-game aggressive attitude shown on Sunday that has them needing a win or tie against the Falcons (6-9) to win the division.

"That last drive, not being able to close and then we missed a field goal," tight end Greg Olsen lamented of the first Atlanta loss. "Then we got it back and got a field goal blocked. So that was kind of a bad loss.

“I think guys are excited to try to redeem ourselves from that one.”

Upon further review, they have that chance because of a lesson learned.
Greg, Kara and TJ Olsen.Courtesy Greg OlsenGreg Olsen and his wife, Kara, take their son, T.J., home after his final procedure.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The call came as the Carolina Panthers were beginning practice on Monday. Just as he had several times over the past few months, tight end Greg Olsen ran back to the stadium for a quick change of clothes and short drive to the hospital.

"He had to go in for a little hiccup," Olsen said.

He is T.J., Olsen's son, the twin to Talbot.

Since being born with hypo-plastic left heart syndrome in 2012, T.J. has undergone four open heart surgeries. Three were expected. The fourth, which came in September when a pacemaker was installed, was not.

In between there have been several "hiccups," as Olsen calls them. But for the most part, despite the long-term uncertainty, things are going as well as can be expected.

[+] EnlargeOlsen
Evan Habeeb/Getty ImagesGreg Olsen is on pace to having one of the best seasons of his career.
Things are going well for Olsen on the field, too. He's on pace for a career year with a team-leading 56 receptions, with 719 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

But as impressive as Olsen has been on the field, he's been more impressive off it in the way he and his wife, Kara, have handled T.J.'s condition while raising their other two children.

In dealing with T.J.'s fight, the struggles the Panthers (3-7-1) have had on and off the field don't seem quite so bad.

"It puts a lot of things in perspective," Olsen said as he anticipated spending Thanksgiving with his family. "This time of the year you kind of stop and count your blessings and just think how fortunate we are.

"We've learned a lot about ourselves as a family about perseverance and continuing to be mentally strong and continue to take the good with the bad and wake up the next day and do it all over again."

Many of Olsen's days this season began waking up at the hospital before going to work. During one four-week stretch, Olsen spent about six nights a week at the hospital while Kara stayed at home with Talbot and older brother Tate.

Through all this, Olsen has learned a lot about himself as a husband, a father, a player and a teammate.

"It hasn't been easy," said Olsen, who with his wife and Levine Hospital started the initiative "The Heartest Yard" to help provide care for other kids like T.J. "We haven't shied away from that. His road is a little unclear going forward for the long, long haul.

"And we understand that. We're confident he's doing to do well and we're confident as a family we're going to be able to handle whatever comes our way."

Don't think Olsen's teammates haven't noticed the way he has handled things.

"He's showing a lot of perseverance to endure so much," quarterback Cam Newton said. "It's motivating and it's a heartwarming story when you hear about it.

"It's beyond being a player. It's what type of man Greg Olsen really is and he inspires a lot of people -- on the field and off."

In a way, football has been an escape for Olsen. When he's on the field, whether it's in practice or a game, his mind is focused totally on the game plan and away from the tears he has shed over T.J.

"He does a great job of balancing the two and using football as his outlet," said backup tight end Ed Dickson, who shares a locker next to Olsen's. "He puts on a great face when he's here."

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen's children: Talbot, left, Tate and T.J.
Courtesy Greg OlsenGreg Olsen's children: Talbot, left, Tate and T.J.
The on-the-field production says it all. Olsen is having the kind of season that warrants strong consideration for his first Pro Bowl.

But the Pro Bowl is the least of Olsen's concerns. As a team captain, he's more interested in helping Carolina turn around the season and make a run at Atlanta (4-7) and New Orleans (4-7) for the NFC South title.

As a husband and father, he's more interested in being there for T.J. and his family, knowing there likely will be other "hiccups" along the way.

"It's obviously not ideal," Olsen said. "It's not something you'd wish on anybody's child to live that sort of lifestyle, regardless of what mom and dad's schedule has been like. More importantly, it's what his first two years in life has been like."

Olsen has done his best to make life as normal as possible for T.J. So has the Carolina organization, from team owner Jerry Richardson to head coach Ron Rivera.

The "J" in T.J. actually is in honor of Richardson, who flew Olsen and his family to Boston in 2012 to consult with the country's top medical experts on their son's condition.

Rivera does his part by allowing Olsen to miss practices like Monday's session without question.

Olsen is appreciative. He wants his life to be as normal as possible even though he knows there will be calls and moments like Monday when nothing seems normal.

"We don't live our life on panic," Olsen said. "We don't live our life worrying. That's not any way we want him to go through his life or us to go through ours."

Dickson: Panthers have to be 'hammer'

September, 26, 2014
9/26/14
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers tight end Ed Dickson and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith have a couple of things in common.

Both were drafted in the third round by the team they'll be playing against on Sunday at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Both spent their entire careers with that team until this offseason season, albeit Smith was 14 years at Carolina and Dickson four years with the Ravens.

But while all the attention has been on Smith, Carolina's all-time leading receiver who was released in March, Dickson has gone unnoticed.

That's OK with Dickson.

"Steve Smith is a very passionate player,'' he said. "Everybody knows that. He's probably going to be talking and having fun. I'm not going to talk. I'm going to go out and play the game.''

Dickson
While the 35-year-old Smith is driven by proving Carolina made a mistake in letting him go, Dickson is driven by getting the offense back on track after a 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh.

Signed to give the Panthers a second receiving threat at tight end opposite Greg Olsen, Dickson doesn't have a catch through his first three games. His only opportunity resulted in a drop after he looked like a Pro Bowl candidate during training camp.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera expects more from Dickson in the two tight-end set as the offense matures. Again, Dickson is more concerned about what went wrong against Pittsburgh.

"After a loss like that, get the bad taste out of your mouth and get right back at it,'' said Dickson, who has remained an asset with his blocking. "Just like the last game, it's going to be physical [at Baltimore]. So bring your hardhat, bring your mouthpiece, and be ready to go.''

Dickson understands the Baltimore mentality. He said it's a good fit for Smith and his "blood and guts'' persona.

"They pride themselves on being bullies,'' Dickson said. "They're going to get after you, put their hands on you . . . . they're going to act like they're better than you. You've got to match that.

"As an offense, be prepared to get hit in the mouth and prepared to hit them back. You've got to be the hammer, not the nail.''

Dickson has been around his new locker room long enough to believe the Panthers can be the hammer.

"They feel like if they come out and be physical with you, you're going to shy away and tuck tail and leave,'' he said of the Ravens. "I don't think that is going to happen with us. I know that's not going to happen with us.''
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's time for the Carolina Panthers to unleash their secret weapon on the Baltimore Ravens.

Richie "The Mauler" Brockel.

Brockel is a tight end/fullback who, at 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds, is one of the toughest players on the roster. He practices and plays with an attitude. You could see it best during training camp when he consistently handled the team's top linebackers in one-on-one drills.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Richie Brockel
Jason Bridge-USA TODAY SportsCould Richie Brockel find a role similar to the one occupied by Brad Hoover?
Carolina's running game needs an attitude, particularly if it's not going to unleash quarterback Cam Newton.

What better player to take a chance on, particularly with Jonathan Stewart (sprained knee) likely out, Mike Tolbert (fractured leg) on short-term injured reserve and DeAngelo Williams nursing a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the last two games.

The Panthers could rely on undrafted rookie Darrin Reaves, but my vote goes to Brockel.

"I'm ready,'' the former Boise State player said.

Don't laugh. Just check out your Carolina media guide and look for the name Brad Hoover.

Late in the 2000 season, the Carolina backfield was decimated by injuries to Tshimanga Biakabatuka and William Floyd heading into a Monday night game against Green Bay.

In stepped Hoover, a 6-0, 245-pound fullback who had been signed as an undrafted rookie out of Western Carolina. A kid considered too slow to play in the NFL, he basically was the last hope at running back.

He carried 24 times for 117 yards and caught three passes for 41 yards as the Panthers shocked Brett Favre and the Packers 31-14.

Brockel's rushing résumé heading into Baltimore isn't as good as Hoover's. Since carrying three times for 12 yards as a rookie in 2011, he has one carry for 1 yard.

He's caught only four passes for 25 yards.

But what defines Brockel is toughness and determination. He rides his bicycle to the stadium on most days instead of driving. To supplement his income, he spent part of his offseason doing income taxes for an accounting firm.

"Richie is a jack of all trades,'' coach Ron Rivera said during camp. "He does the dirty work. There's a toughness about Richie too that I like that helps transfer over to his teammates.''

Again, the running game needs that.

"Running the football in the NFL is all about attitude,'' Brockel said. "You've got to have it in your head you're going to win on every play. When you have the ball in your hands you've got to have the attitude you're not going to get taken down.

"It starts up front and goes all the way back to the running backs. If they all have that mindset then that's when you run the ball effectively.''

The Panthers haven't run effectively. In two of their three games they fell short of 100 yards, something they did in only two of 16 games last season.

Their 72.3 yards rushing per game ranks 29th in the league and is more than 50 yards less than a year ago. According to ESPN Stats & Information, their 3.2 yards per rush is the second-lowest average through the first three games in team history.

Williams will be a boost unless he suffers a setback between now and Sunday. He brings, as Newton said, confidence to a unit with a lot of new players.

But Williams' strength is getting to the corner. Brockel is a straight-ahead bruiser.

"Without a doubt, let Richie run the ball,'' tight end Ed Dickson said.

Rivera doesn't sound convinced. While he agrees Brockel can do some of same the things as Tolbert -- protect the quarterback, lead block and catch out of the backfield -- "he's not as nimble of a runner as Mike.''

The Panthers don't need nimble. They need positive yards.

"I can go straight ahead, I can cut back and I can find the hole,'' Brockel said.

Enough to match what Hoover did on MNF in 2000?

"It would be a sight to be seen,'' Brockel said. "If it comes to that, it could probably end up happening.''
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- You couldn't help but notice Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen as he left Thursday's practice in a full sprint only minutes after arriving.

There was a distressed look on his face.

It's a natural reaction for a parent when your son is in a nearby hospital needing a procedure after recently going through his third open heart surgery since being born in 2012 with a heart defect.

The team said a prayer for Olsen, who assured coach Ron Rivera he would be back Friday and ready to go for Sunday's home opener against Detroit. Olsen was back, and tweeted that his son is recovering well.

.

Carolina needs Olsen on the field almost like his son T.J. needed him by his side Thursday. The eighth-year veteran is critical to what the Panthers do offensively, leading the team in receptions (73) and touchdown catches (6) last season and starting this season with a team-high eight catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in a 20-14 victory at Tampa Bay.

Olsen might be the best tight end in the NFL who hasn't made the Pro Bowl.

Maybe now that Tony Gonzalez is retired, Antonio Gates is past his prime and Rob Gronkowski is another injury waiting to happen, Olsen will get noticed on the field the way he was noticed running off the field Thursday.

He should have been already.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsSince being drafted in 2007, Greg Olsen ranks fifth among tight ends in receptions (389), eighth in yards (4,263) and eighth in receiving TDs (37).
That Olsen hasn't made the Pro Bowl since Chicago selected him with the 31st pick of the 2007 draft is somewhat surprising. He had the numbers to make it last season, maybe even the year before, when he had 69 catches for 843 yards and five touchdowns.

"It's disappointing because I know what a good player Greg is," four-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil said. "The hard thing is you have some older guys who are some big-name recognition guys and they still play pretty good football. For him, he's just in a holding pattern for those spots.

"I consider him a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end, and not just his production and what he does on the field, but he's an incredible pro."

That Olsen has played in the NFC South with New Orleans' Jimmy Graham and, until last season, Atlanta's Gonzalez makes it easier to understand the snub. But consider that since 2008 Olsen is the only tight end in the NFL to catch at least five touchdowns a season.

Consider that, since entering the league, Olsen ranks fifth among tight ends in receptions (389), eighth in yards (4,263) and eighth in receiving touchdowns (37).

And all it cost the Panthers to get Olsen from Chicago in 2011 was a third-round pick, which looks like a steal now.

Yet when the top tight ends in the NFL come up in conversation, Olsen's name seldom is mentioned.

Perhaps it comes down to notoriety and touchdowns for Pro Bowl consideration. Graham was a no-brainer last season with 86 catches and 16 touchdowns. San Francisco's Vernon Davis had 21 fewer catches than Olsen but had 13 touchdowns. Denver's Julius Thomas had eight fewer catches but had 12 touchdowns.

"People don't give Greg Olsen enough credit for the type of football player he is," Rivera said. "He first of all studies and understands the game very well, and he knows exactly where he needs to be in certain situations.

"He understands who he's going up against and what they do well in terms of defense."

And it doesn't matter who is throwing him the ball, Newton or backup Derek Anderson, who played in the opener while Newton gave his fractured ribs an extra week to heal.

"Greg is an underrated talent in this league, to say the least," said Newton, who will be back in the lineup Sunday. "He understands what his purpose is for each and every play, as well as correcting the play calls in the huddle during the game -- what people don't see.

"For Greg, it's being consistent, a reliable source each and every time the ball is thrown to him. And that's what I like about him the most."

It's not just Olsen's receiving that makes him Pro Bowl-caliber. He plays a big part in Carolina's running game that is key to this ball control offense.

"You watch the Tampa game, he can block, man," Kalil said. "He's one of the better blocking tight ends I've ever played with or seen."

Backup tight end Ed Dickson didn't know a lot about Olsen before arriving in Carolina from Baltimore. But after spending the offseason and preseason working with him, he believes Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the league.

"He's a great individual player, and he makes the team better," Dickson said. "Whoever makes the team better deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. And when you can do the things Greg does, it's a matter of time before he makes the Pro Bowl."

Panthers vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 5, 2014
9/05/14
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Cam Newton and Gerald McCoyDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton's sore ribs would prefer not to have any close encounters with Gerald McCoy.
If there's anything certain about the NFC South, it's uncertainty.

Since the division came into existence in 2002, no team has claimed the championship in back-to-back years. Worst-to-first finishes have been common, and no team has been able to consistently dominate.

That's why Sunday's season opener between the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers is so significant. The Panthers won the division last year, and the Bucs finished last at 4-12. But this is a new year, and history has shown that anything is possible in the NFC South.

Panthers reporter David Newton and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at the matchup.

Yasinskas: David, much has been made of the release of wide receiver Steve Smith, who I think was the best player in franchise history. I know Smith's age was a concern. But can any of the new wide receivers step up and match his production?

Newton: You think Smith was the best player in franchise history? I truly believe he is, although he probably would have a hard time believing me after what I'm about to say: The Panthers are better at wide receiver today than they were this time a year ago.

It's nothing against Smith, but he's 35 and admittedly not a true No. 1 receiver anymore. First-round draft pick Kelvin Benjamin is. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he is the big target quarterback Cam Newton hasn't had. Benjamin is deceptively fast, too. But the biggest thing is he makes plays, whether it's over the middle in traffic or on the outside. If teams double-cover him, that will open things up for tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson in the middle. It also will open coverage on Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, a pair of veterans I believe to be more dependable than Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. were last year. If the Bucs choose to single-cover Benjamin, Newton will look for him often. I know rookie receivers tend to struggle, but this one has a special feel.

The bigger worry for Carolina is its rebuilt offensive line. The Bucs added some talent around defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. How big of a problem will that be for the Panthers?

Yasinskas: That should be a big concern for the Panthers. McCoy might be the best defensive tackle in the game, and the Bucs have worked hard to improve his supporting cast. They went out and signed tackle Clinton McDonald and end Michael Johnson to surround McCoy with some other players who can get after the quarterback. The guy who isn't getting a lot of attention but is worth keeping an eye on is Adrian Clayborn. He's a 2011 first-round draft pick who hasn't shown a lot so far, but the Bucs believe the new scheme will help them get more out of Clayborn.

Jordan Gross' retirement had to hurt Carolina. How good is this offensive line without him?

Newton: Athletically, it might be better. And in time, it might be better in terms of productivity. What it lacks is time together -- and Gross' leadership.

Byron Bell was considered average to perhaps slightly better than average at right tackle, but the Panthers believe because he is naturally left-handed he's better off on the left side. He's still susceptible to the bull rush from what I saw in the preseason, but he's every bit as strong and athletic as Gross. Amini Silatolu began last season as the starting left guard before suffering a season-ending knee injury. So he's solid.

It's the right side the Bucs -- particularly McCoy -- might be able to take advantage of. As good as rookie Trai Turner has looked at right guard, he just turned 21 and he missed the last two preseason games with a groin injury. The good news is he has Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil next to him. Nate Chandler, a former defensive lineman who wound up the starter at right guard last season, has moved out to right tackle after losing the left tackle battle. Again, he has great athleticism. He just needs time at the position.

How much different will the Bucs look under Lovie Smith than they did a year ago?

Yasinskas: The Bucs will look dramatically different -- and that's a good thing from their perspective. Many players were miserable under former coach Greg Schiano, and they tired of his rigid ways. Smith brings a fresh start, and the players are delighted with him and his schemes. The Bucs are going back to the Tampa 2 defense that was famous in the Tony Dungy years, and their offense will have a faster tempo. More importantly, Smith has brought a new culture to the Bucs. Players are having fun again.

Everyone in Tampa is curious about Newton's rib injury. Is he healthy enough to be the athletic quarterback we've all come to know?

Newton: The ribs are sore, and that isn't likely to change by Sunday. But Newton has thrown the ball well in practice, and his range of motion is good. He's tougher than most give him credit for being. To never have missed a start despite being hit twice as many times as any other quarterback over the past three seasons really is remarkable.

Coach Ron Rivera says he doesn't plan to change the game plan because of the injury, and that includes the read-option. But do I expect Newton to run 11 times, as he did at Tampa last season? I'd be stunned. The Panthers don't need Newton taking unnecessary hits. Having said that, if there is a play to be made, Newton won't hesitate to use his legs. He insists that he'll continue to dive headfirst instead of sliding, too. But I expect Newton to stay in the pocket as much as possible and throw the ball to Benjamin as often as he's open. Those two have quickly developed a bond.

What about Josh McCown, who spent two years on the Carolina bench? Is he really the answer at quarterback to make the Bucs a playoff contender?

Yasinskas: McCown is a great story. He has spent most of his career as a backup, but the Bucs are giving him the chance to be a starter. McCown played extremely well last season when Bears starter Jay Cutler was hurt, and he has history with Smith from their time together in Chicago. But is McCown capable of leading a team to the playoffs? I honestly don't know. I think he needs a lot of help from the defense and the running game. If he gets that, McCown could be effective as a passer.

Hits will keep coming for Cam Newton

September, 3, 2014
9/03/14
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's a number you've probably already heard or seen, one you will hear and see more as the Carolina Panthers get closer to Sunday's opener at Tampa Bay.

The number is 467.

That's how many times quarterback Cam Newton has been hit the past three seasons. It's significant because no other NFL quarterback has been hit more than 230 times during that span.

It's even more significant because Newton is coming off March surgery to tighten the ligaments in his left ankle and has fractured ribs suffered in an Aug. 22 exhibition loss to New England.

Why is the number, compiled by ESPN Stats and Information, so high? The simple answer: Running is a big part of Newton's game, whether it's the read-option or a scramble or because he holds onto the ball too long.

He has accounted for 31.2 percent of Carolina's rush offense since being selected with the first pick of the 2011 draft. That's the highest percentage for a team by a quarterback.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton carried 11 times for 50 yards and a touchdown last year at Tampa Bay.
He has 28 rushing touchdowns during that span. The next highest are Colin Kaepernick and Andrew Luck with seven. The only two players with more are running backs Marshawn Lynch of Seattle and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Newton also doesn't slide and seldom runs out of bounds. He often takes on tacklers like a fullback, turning his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame into a weapon to get every yard he can.

He doesn't plan to change just because of the injuries.

"I am who I am,'' Newton said recently. "This is a physical sport and needs to be played that way.''

There's a good chance Newton will have to run on Sunday despite the ribs. He ran 11 times, his second-highest total of 2013, in the seventh game at Tampa. The Buccaneers through free agency have strengthened already one of the league's best defensive fronts, anchored by Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy.

Newton doesn't appear concerned. He likes challenges. His teammates say there are no concerns,. Tight end Greg Olsen called his quarterback a "tough guy.'' Left tackle Byron Bell called him a "fighter.''

How effective Newton will be remains to be seen. He showed great range of motion dancing to a rap song during warmups on Wednesday, but he didn't throw a pass or take a rep during practice because he was sore.

Coach Ron Rivera says he expects Newton to start. He also expects the Panthers to move forward with the same game plan as usual, which means Newton at some point will get hit number 468.

Probably 469, 470 and so on considering he ran 11 times at Tampa last season.

"It's his style of play,'' Rivera said. "You'd like to see him develop another style or taper his style and control it. But again, that's who he is. If you take too much away from him and take too much, it changes his game.

"But I do think it's something he's going to have to learn as he matures as a quarterback on how to slide, how to get rid of the ball, how to not take those kinds of hits.''

In other words, 467 is a lot of hits in three years.

"He's still standing?'' tight end Ed Dickson said jokingly when asked what that many meant to him.

Then he added, "You can't take the ball out of his hands. He makes us better running the ball and throwing the ball.''

Dickson took it one step forward, saying Newton ran just as well as running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

"When he's out there, we're definitely a better team,'' he said.

Backup quarterback Derek Anderson reminded Newton makes a lot of plays because he's not afraid to get hit.

"Then he runs 60 yards for a touchdown,'' he said. "There's not a lot of guys that can do that.''

Center Ryan Kalil said Newton has handled the hits because "he's a tough guy, maybe as tough as I've been around.''

Kalil also jokingly reminded that centers are tough.

"I'm going to start doing some numbers on the times I've been rolled up, had fingers smashed, hit in the back,'' he said. "That's an interesting number.

"Yeah, [Newton's] a very active player. He's a guy that runs around. He can do a lot of things with the ball. With that comes the hits.''
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you need more proof that the Carolina Panthers have found a true No. 1 receiver in rookie Kelvin Benjamin, recent practices are a good indication.

The Panthers are putting the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Benjamin in more situations that No. 1 receivers expect on game day in terms of the coverage he will receive.

"We've done some things defensively to put him in situations where he's being jammed, where he's being pressed, he's being doubled, he's being rolled to,'' coach Ron Rivera said on Friday. "He's going to have to get used to it.''

Benjamin showed what he can do against single coverage in last week's preseason opener against Buffalo. He caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Derek Anderson in which he stumbled on the heel of the defender, gathered himself and made a spectacular diving catch in the end zone as he rolled to the ground.

Now that opponents are seeing what the Carolina coaches are seeing in practice, Benjamin is sure to attract more attention. That's why the Panthers are throwing more at him in practice.

"He's done pretty well,'' Rivera said. "It's probably a little different from what he experienced in college. But still, in this game, it really is a matter of how you handle it and he's done well.''

The Panthers selected Benjamin with the hope that he could replace Steve Smith as the team's top receiver. Smith, 35, was released in March and subsequently signed with Baltimore.

Some questioned whether Benjamin ran good enough routes or had enough big-time experience as a college junior to step right into the No. 1 role. Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl recently told ESPN.com that Benjamin was more than capable.

"It's obvious,'' he said.

Benjamin has accepted the challenge. He expects more press and double-team coverage in Sunday night's exhibition game against Kansas City, when he'll work with starting quarterback Cam Newton for the first time.

Newton and Benjamin have developed a bond off the field and in practice they hope carries over to big catches in games. If teams try to take him away, Benjamin isn't worried.

"Oh, yeah,'' he said. "If that happens, I just need my others receivers to step it up, and I'll clear it out for them.''

That's what Benjamin brings to this offense. If defenses focus on him, that opens the field not only for the other wide receivers but for tight ends Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson.

"Listen, I will never complain about having wide receivers [who] can get down the field and keep those safeties wide,'' said Olsen, who led the team in catches last season. "The tighter those safeties get, my day gets harder and harder. There's a lot of guys sometimes in the middle of the field.''

And if teams double down on Olsen, that opens man coverage for Benjamin.

"It's going to be interesting when we're all out there together,'' Olsen said. "It's hard to predict what other teams are going to want to do.''

So the Panthers are preparing him for everything.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Brandon Williams isn't ready to take on NBA superstar LeBron James, but the tight end does claim to be the best basketball player among the Carolina Panthers.

And since defensive end Greg Hardy said last year he could take James in a game of one-on-one, logic suggests Williams could as well.

Right?

"I don't know about that," Williams said on Sunday with a laugh.

Hey, it made for a good rainy day conversation in training camp. That Williams' last team before Carolina signed him as a free agent in 2013 was the Portland Bible College basketball team gives it more legitimacy.

But other than a game of "Around the World" in the Wofford College gym, Williams' focus is on playing tight end. The progress the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has made since last season, when he played in nine games but caught no passes, is remarkable.

“He’s probably come as far as anybody on this team,” said starting tight end Greg Olsen, who led the team in catches last season. “I’m really happy for him because he’s a great kid. He wants to learn. He works his ass off. Physically, he has a lot of gifts that are hard to coach.”

Williams showed a glimpse of his potential in Friday night's 20-18 loss to Buffalo. He caught three passes for 50 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown with 1:37 remaining.

He played 56 snaps, which may be more than he had all of last season.

"Just being out there on the field is a blessing for me, because I was out of football for two years," Williams said. "Then scoring a touchdown, regardless of whether it is preseason or not, it was surreal for me."

Williams' football career seemed over after he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis before his career at Oregon got off the ground in 2011. It wasn't until he underwent more testing while playing basketball that he was given medical clearance to participate in last year's NFL Regional Combine in Seattle, where he turned heads running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds.

That's where the Panthers discovered him. Like Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and other basketball players who have transitioned into great NFL tight ends, Williams showed a natural instinct for the position.

After spending much of the offseason soaking up all the knowledge he could from Olsen, Williams has emerged as a potential weapon for quarterback Cam Newton.

That coincides with Carolina's move to more two-tight-end formations, which gives offensive coordinator Mike Shula greater flexibility because it makes the offense more unpredictable.

The signing of free agents Ed Dickson and Mike McNeil makes Williams' chances of making the 53-man roster more difficult, but he should be a lock the way he's practicing and performing.

"I say the sky's the limit," Williams said. "I try not to give myself a ceiling."

Williams is embracing everything that is happening like he embraced the nickname "Swoll Bones" that Newton gave him last year because he's so muscular.

Williams also embraces his status as the team's best basketball player, declaring he hasn't found anybody who can take him.

"Right now, I'm the champion of 'Around the World,'" Williams said. "I plan on keeping that."

And the Panthers plan on keeping Williams around.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Mike Shula has a lot of new toys. He got some because the old toys were getting, well, old. He got some because opponents wanted to play with his old toys more than management was willing to pay to keep them.

The Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator still is learning everything these new toys can do, but he likes what he's seen so far -- particularly from a certain 6-foot-5, 240-pound gadget after his spectacular catch in Friday night's 20-18 preseason loss to Buffalo.

Shula believes he has flexibility to have more fun with this new toys than his old ones, and that has the potential to make his offense better than a year ago.

"Yeah!" Shula said. "Heck yeah!"

There's plenty of room to improve.

The Panthers ranked 26th in total offense in 2013, averaging 316 yards a game. They were 29th in passing (190.2 yards per game) and 18th in scoring (22.9 points per game).

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesKelvin Benjamin's touchdown catch was a reason for excitement as the Carolina Panthers have big plans for their big target.
They were able to go 12-4 because the defense was ranked second in the league, the offense was among the best at ball control and quarterback Cam Newton made more game-winning clutch pays than he had during his first two seasons.

But it was obvious the offense needed an overhaul if the overall team was to improve. That's why Shula is excited about his new toys, particularly as it pertains to his new wide receivers -- rookie Kelvin Benjamin (the 6-5 toy), veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant -- and tight end Ed Dickson.

"It been great," Shula said. "They've come in with a workmanlike attitude, very serious, eager to prove themselves and earn a spot on the team. Competition is a beautiful thing. These guys get along good."

Shula isn't dishing on his old toys. But wide receiver Steve Smith, who was released in March, is 35 and at the end of his career. He didn't always get along. Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr. and Domenik Hixon were adequate, but not irreplaceable.

Sometimes you have to tear things apart to move forward. That's what Carolina has done.

"We're starting over with guys that are knowledgeable, that are smart guys, that there's a reason why they've been in the league," Shula said. "They're new, but it's kind of been a positive thing."

Benjamin has received most of the headlines. The 28th pick of the draft has been phenomenal, catching everything thrown in his direction. His 29-yard touchdown catch against Buffalo while stumbling into the end zone showed just how special he is.

He's emerged as a No. 1 receiver that the 5-9 Smith admittedly wasn't anymore.

"He's such a big target, it has to give you more confidence as a quarterback, like a jump shooter with a basket that is twice as big," Shula said.

Dickson, a free agent pickup from Baltimore, also was a big addition. Putting him opposite Greg Olsen, the team's leading receiver in 2013, in a two-tight end set has opened possibilities that Shula didn't have last season.

Defenses will have to commit eight players to the box, which will prevent double-teams on receivers and free up the entire offense.

"It gives you flexibility," Shula said. "It makes you less predictable by personnel groupings. So if all of a sudden you come in with two tight ends, you're not necessarily going to run the ball, you're not necessarily going to be in single-back, you're not necessarily going to have two tight ends on the edge.

"So now the defense can't just say, 'Oh, well, they're just going to play these formations, and out of these formations they're going to run just these plays.'"

But it's not just the new toys that excite Shula. Newton has looked as sharp as ever despite being limited since returning from offseason ankle surgery.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil gives the line a stabilizing force. Running backs DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert still offer a solid one-two punch in the backfield. Olsen looks as dependable as ever.

"The core guys," Shula said with a smile.

At the core of Shula's excitement is Newton. The only thing sharper than his timing with receivers has been his leadership. Nobody has been more active in encouraging players who do well and motivating them when they need pushing.

"With all that there's a calmness and confidence," Shula said of the fourth-year quarterback. "He's always had that cool personality on the field. Now there's some added confidence with experience."

Old toys, new toys.

Shula has a lot more to play with now.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- The Carolina Panthers are in a two tight end set, which means the defense has to commit eight in the box, which puts cornerback Melvin White one-on-one with rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Quarterback Cam Newton drops back and lofts a high pass in the direction of the 6-foot-5 Benjamin running down the left sideline. Benjamin soars into the air and comes down with the football.

The crowd at Wofford's Gibbs Stadium cheers.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonFirst-rounder Kelvin Benjamin looks like a receiver who could make Panthers fans forget Steve Smith.
Carolina coaches smile.

To those -- including coach Ron Rivera prior to the draft -- that said the Panthers didn't necessarily need a true No. 1 receiver after releasing Steve Smith, you can stop that debate.

They have one in Benjamin, who returned to practice on Saturday for the first time since bruising his left knee on Sunday.

This is what the former Florida State standout brings to the offense, why he will make even the most diehard Smith fans forget about the seemingly harsh way Carolina's all-time leading receiver was let go.

"Yes, he does," wide receiver coach Rick Proehl said when I asked if Benjamin looked like a No. 1 receiver. "It's obvious."

It's also early, as Proehl quickly reminded. But he also admitted early returns are looking good.

"There are going to be some trials he's going to go through," Proehl said. "But if you keep making plays like he is right now they're going to come up and press him. How he adjusts and how he adapts will be his next step in being a No. 1 receiver.

"But every indication, right now ... he has a great feel for the game."

Benjamin still makes rookie mistakes, but he doesn't look like a rookie. And as Proehl noted, the misperception that Benjamin wasn't advanced in running good routes, "that's not true at all."

The perception that you can't coach Benjamin's size is true. Combine that with his route running and sneaky-fast speed and you have a weapon that defenses will have to respect from the get-go.

"No question," Proehl said. "The catches he's made have been amazing. You don't have to put it in a tight window. Just throw it up and put it in the general area and he's going to come down with it. That's what he brings to the table."

The Carolina defense certainly pays attention to Benjamin. When he lined up inside at the slot with Brenton Bersin and Tiquan Underwood on the outside during a red-zone play, defenders were screaming "13 in the slot" like it was a fire drill.

"They're going to have to [pay attention]," Proehl said. "He's got to make those plays, starting in preseason. But if he does and when he does, it's going to open it up for other guys."

Tight end Greg Olsen, as Proehl noted of last season's leading receiver, "should be ecstatic."

"Now they can't double him, and it's going to open things for him down the field as well as [Jerricho Cotchery] and [Jason] Avant and all the other guys," he added.

Among the other guys is tight end Ed Dickson, a free agent acquisition from Baltimore who sometimes lines up wide like a receiver. He's having a camp almost as impressive as Benjamin's.

"He's a stud, too," Proehl said. "You look at him and you're like, 'How did we get a guy like that? How was he on the street?' He's opened my eyes. He's a helluva player."

Dickson is a big reason the Panthers effectively can go to the two-tight-end set as they could in 2011 when Newton threw for more than 4,000 yards as a rookie with Jeremy Shockey opposite Olsen.

That season, the 5-9 Smith had 79 catches, his highest total in his past six seasons.

Benjamin should benefit in similar ways, maybe more because of his size. He looks unstoppable on the alley-oop pass like the one on which he beat White.

Can he be stopped on that play? I had to ask.

"Coach Ricky, he always told me just to go up and get the ball at its highest point," Benjamin said. "If I can do that, probably not."

Just what you would expect a No. 1 receiver to say.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 7

August, 1, 2014
8/01/14
6:00
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Carolina Panthers training camp:
  • Give coach Ron Rivera credit for making the right call on the weather. He postponed the 9:25 a.m. practice until 1 p.m. after studying the weather flow and seeing a window in the heavy rains that have dropped several inches on the area the past couple of days. The forecast was spot on, but Rivera (wearing a jacket) was concerned with the unusually cool temperatures -- low 70s instead of low 90s -- as the team prepares for the opener in Tampa Bay where the heat and humidity are sure to be through the roof.
  • Third-string quarterback Joe Webb ran the read option with the first team during team drills, throwing a touchdown pass to Brenton Bersin. Webb was signed as a free agent from Minnesota to emulate starting quarterback Cam Newton, who is coming off left ankle surgery. The Panthers like what Webb brings to the offense in that he takes carries off Newton in practice, gets the offensive line used to working with a mobile quarterback and is insurance should Newton reinjure the ankle. Carolina kept only two quarterbacks last season, but Rivera says three are a distinct possibility this year. It makes sense on many levels. Webb hasn't looked bad, either.
  • With Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy practicing in shorts, second-round draft pick Kony Ealy got a little more work. He made an impression early, blasting past the right tackle and getting in backup quarterback Derek Anderson's face so fast that he threw an errant pass that rookie corner Bene' Benwikere intercepted on the sideline. He had a few moments in one-on-one drills as well. That's the kind of pressure the Panthers expected when they drafted Ealy out of Missouri. Now he just needs to impress against a starting tackle.
  • Speaking of Benwikere -- now known as "Big Play Bene' (pronounce Ben-Ay)" -- he had two interceptions and at least three passes broken up. "He's one of those young guys that catches your eye. It was a good day for him." The rookie out of San Jose State was drafted to compete with Charles Godfrey for the nickel back vacated by Captain Munnerlyn, who signed with Minnesota. He's not ready to be an every-down corner despite his flashes, but he's certainly out-performed Godfrey thus far as a nickel and every-down backup.
  • The Panthers are lining tight end Ed Dickson outside like a wide receiver a lot in a two tight-end formation. At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, he's yet another big target for Newton. With Dickson, starting tight end Greg Olsen, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery on the field the average height of the receivers is just under 6-4. With a quarterback who has a tendency to throw high at times that could come in handy. Regardless, judging by the number of formations Dickson is a part of, he will be a large part of this offense.
  • The Panthers practice at 9:25 a.m. Saturday. There's a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms, but Rivera seemed optimistic it would be dry.

Panthers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 27, 2014
7/27/14
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SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of the Carolina Panthers training camp from Wofford College:
  • If you were looking for something definitive at the left tackle position after the first practice in pads, sorry. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler both got opportunities there and both did well in giving quarterback Cam Newton time to throw. Bell started off on the left side during 7-on-7 drills and Chandler began team drills there. In one-on-one drills Chandler did a nice job of taking defensive end Charles Johnson to the ground once. The Panthers will continue to use both players there for the next few weeks as they look to replace retired Jordan Gross, who has lost so much weight he could play tight end or wide receiver. Coach Ron Rivera wants to make a decision on the starter after the second preseason game. The Panthers will face some good pass-rushers in Buffalo end Mario Williams and Kansas City linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford from a 3-4 set. Williams had 4.5 sacks in Week 2 against Carolina last season with most coming against Bell playing right tackle. Stay tuned. Too close to call, but both are showing potential.
  • Tight end Greg Olsen was wide open on a touchdown catch down the left sideline. Tight end Ed Dickson made a diving catch on a slant pattern. Tight end Brandon Williams made a nice over-the-shoulder catch deep in traffic. Tight end Mike McNeill made a tough catch in traffic over the middle. Tight end D.C. Jefferson made a solid catch in stride about 25 yards deep. Notice a theme here? The Panthers have more than enough choices to complement Olsen as they go to a two-tight end set. It's a luxury they haven't had since Jeremy Shockey was here in 2011. And I haven't mentioned Richie Brockel, who is listed as a TE/FB. The team kept four tight ends last season, and Rivera says there is a scenario where it could keep five this year. This definitely softens the blow of losing the top four wide receivers from last season.
  • Rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin made an acrobatic, twisting catch on a high pass from Cam Newton on the first play of 7-on-7 drills. He snagged a somewhat high bullet over the middle on the first play of team drills. He caught a nice out pattern on the first series of another team session. In other words, the 28th pick of the draft is becoming quite comfortable with Newton in a hurry. A lot of this may have to do with the two staying in Charlotte, North Carolina, to work out together while the team was off from June 19 through last Thursday. If they continue to develop this chemistry people may forget Steve Smith, the team's all-time leading receiver who was cut during the offseason.
  • Philly Brown went to the ground and did what appeared to be 20 pushups after having a punt bounce off his chest early in practice. There were drops by a few other returners as the Panthers attempt to replace Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona in free agency. Don't think Rivera didn't notice it. "The thing we have to understand is first and foremost we have to catch the ball. I could care less if we fair catch it every time, but we've got to catch it.'' The leader in the clubhouse for the job might be Antoine Cason, who returned punts at San Diego while Rivera was there. It's interesting that speedster Tiquan Underwood hasn't been given a chance there yet, but Rivera said others could be added to the mix that so far includes Cason, Kenjon Barner and Brown. Bottom line, the Panthers will miss Ginn much more here more than they will at receiver.
  • Carolina holds its first morning practice on Monday after two night practices and a 3:10 p.m. session. Sunday's workout was somewhat sloppy, and Rivera reminded players of that afterwards, telling them he "expected a better practice tomorrow.''
Plethora isn't a word you hear every day at an NFL practice, but it was appropriate the way Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera used it on Wednesday.

"This year we have a plethora of veteran tight ends to the point we didn't bring in anybody who was a rookie," Rivera said.

The Panthers have six tight ends, to be exact.

[+] EnlargeDickson
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsThe Panthers will likely rely on former Ravens tight end Ed Dickson for production in the passing game.
They have a combined 20 years of experience.

By definition, plethora means "an amount that is much greater than what is necessary." And while six may seem excessive, it really isn't considering the Panthers are going to use a lot more two-tight end sets than they did the past two seasons.

"With an extra tight end in the game you can do so many different things," Rivera said. "Depending on who the tight end is, you can line up as a fullback, as another wide receiver or as a wing tight end. It's going to give us a lot more versatility."

The Panthers kept three tight ends on their 53-man roster a year ago in Greg Olsen, Ben Hartsock and Brandon Williams -- four when you count Richie Brockel, who plays fullback and tight end.

They could keep as many as five this season between Olsen, Ed Dickson, Williams, Mike McNeill, D.C. Jefferson and Brockel.

Olsen, going into his eighth season out of Miami, is a given. He led the team in receptions last season with 73 for 816 yards and six touchdowns. He's in his prime.

But the only other tight end to catch a pass in 2013 was Brockel, and he had one catch for 12 yards.

That will change with the addition of Dickson, a fifth-year player who caught 25 passes last season and 54 three years ago for the Baltimore Ravens. His presence in routes during offseason workouts has been noticeable.

The Panthers also expect more from Williams, a former basketball player at Portland Bible College who surprised many when he made the final roster a year ago. Athletically, at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, he's drawn comparisons to Denver tight end Julius Thomas.

McNeill was brought in as a free agent from St. Louis to be a blocker. The Panthers believe he is an upgrade from Hartsock, who was not re-signed.

The long shot to make the roster is Jefferson, a seventh-round pick by Arizona in 2013.

But it's clear the Panthers plan to use the tight end more and get back to the way they were in 2011, when they had Olsen and Jeremy Shockey during quarterback Cam Newton's rookie season.

Newton completed 310 of 517 passes for an NFL-rookie-record 4,051 yards and 21 touchdowns that season. Eighty-two of those for 955 yards and nine touchdowns went to Olsen and Shockey.

Having two tight ends in the game also gives Newton more protection with a revamped offensive line and more flexibility to run with an extra blocker.

"It's a personnel group I believe in," Rivera said. "It poses a lot of problems for your opponents."

Too bad he didn't say plethora of problems.

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