CHARLOTTE — Former Panthers tight end Wesley Walls used to celebrate touchdowns by pretending to shoot the ball as though it were a duck or a clay pigeon.
Greg Olsen celebrates a touchdown by handing the ball to the official.
But after getting passed over for the Pro Bowl, despite breaking Walls’ team record for catches by a tight end, his best season of his six-year career, Olsen joked that he might need to come up with a signature move.
“Maybe I should start celebrating a little bit more, dunking and doing all that stuff. Because I think sometimes that’s what draws a lot of attention,” Olsen said Thursday. “But that’s just not who I am.”
Instead, Olsen is a versatile player who, depending on the situation, could be catching a long pass from Cam Newton or blocking for him. Olsen has established career highs this season with 65 catches for 800 yards, and needs 23 yards to break Walls’ receiving yardage record for a Panthers tight end.
But he’s also improved as a blocker, and often is asked to line up in the backfield and help with pass protection. Yet many observers view Olsen as a one-dimensional, pass-catching tight end.
“That’s always been the knock on me. But the funny part is the people who make that knock don’t watch the tapes. If you actually stop to watch the tape, I think people would be surprised,” Olsen said.
Olsen, 27, was Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 2007 after leading Miami with 40 receptions his final season with the Hurricanes. He spent his first four seasons in Chicago before the Bears traded him to Carolina for a third-round pick in 2011 because then-coordinator Mike Martz did not believe he fit into his offense.
Olsen said his reputation as a poor blocker has followed him since college.
“Early in my career, obviously, I wasn’t the greatest blocker. But these last couple years — you don’t play every down in the NFL if you can’t block. You can’t hide,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in never coming out. And in order to play every play, you have to do it all.”
Olsen said the two NFC tight ends in the Pro Bowl — Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez and Dallas’ Jason Witten — are deserving players and future Hall-of-Famers. But Olsen said he was disappointed he was not selected as an alternate.
“I was a little surprised, to be blunt. I thought I had as good a season as anybody,” Olsen said. “There are not a lot of guys that play every snap and have to do everything.”
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross, whose locker is next to Olsen’s, said Olsen has been the ultimate team player since coming to Charlotte.
“Greg has been a huge pick-up for us. He’s a guy who does stuff the right way, works hard. Blocks more than most starting tight ends in the league ever dream of blocking. And has a great set of hands on him, as well,” Gross said. “He deserves the ball, deserves way more attention than he gets.”
Olsen’s 65 receptions rank fifth among tight ends — behind Witten (103), Gonzalez (88), New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham (76) and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller (71). Miller will miss the Steelers’ last game after undergoing knee surgery Thursday.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Olsen’s value extends beyond statistics.
“He’s a well-rounded tight end. He’s not a pass-catching guy by any stretch of the imagination. He’s developed into a good blocker,” Rivera said. “He’s not catching as many passes as some of those other guys. But you have to think about where he fits with what we’re doing and just realize how important he is to us.”
Olsen is friendly with Walls, who played for the Panthers from 1996-2002 and ranks third on the team’s receiving list. The two attended the Wells Fargo Championship with their families last spring at Quail Hollow, where Walls lives.
Olsen was not familiar with Walls’ shotgun routine. And though it might not get him noticed, Olsen plans to keep his celebrations low-key.
“I’m not a big rah-rah, attention-seeking guy,” Olsen said. “I know a lot of guys around the league are. That’s just not really my thing.”