Best hands on the Panthers?

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- For years, there has been a strong consensus that receiver Steve Smith had the best pass-catching hands on the Carolina Panthers.

But that’s changed in the eyes of at least one key player. While going out of his way to heap praise on Smith, linebacker Jon Beason said newly acquired tight end Greg Olsen has better hands than Smith and may catch the ball as well as anyone in the league.

Olsen“I mean, Steve’s got great hands,’’ Beason said. “But I’ve known Olsen for a long time and I’ve seen him go a whole spring or a whole summer camp without dropping a single ball. He’s incredibly consistent.’’

Beason has plenty of history with Olsen. The two entered the University of Miami together and have worked out there together in the offseason since joining the NFL. Beason said the trade the Panthers made with the Bears to get Olsen might be Carolina’s best move of the offseason.

With new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, the Panthers are planning to make the tight ends a bigger part of their passing game than they’ve been since former coach John Fox arrived and tight end Wesley Walls left early last decade.

The Panthers signed Jeremy Shockey prior to the lockout. He figures to be a situational player, with Olsen getting most of the targets among the tight ends. The Panthers also signed veteran Ben Hartsock, who figures to be used mostly as a blocker.

Beason said the addition of Olsen will give Carolina’s offense a new dimension and cause problems for opposing defenses.

“I covered him in practice in college and I’ve played against him a couple of times in the league,’’ Beason said. “He’s a guy who can really stretch the field. It’s a really hassle to cover Olsen as a linebacker or even as a safety.’’