Many Panthers fans thought Greg Olsen’s season was open when he limped off the field Week 1. He may actually return to the team in record time.
When Greg Olsen is at his best, he’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends in football. Unfortunately for the Panthers, that hasn’t been the case very often during the past two seasons. The good news is that his latest foot injury is healing at a sensational pace.
Olsen believes there’s an outside chance he can return to action Week 6 against the Redskins. Getting back on the field that quickly would beat even the most optimistic estimates on his return date by several weeks.
When he went off injured against the Cowboys, there was considerable concern inside the Panthers organization that his entire 2018 season might be lost. Recurring foot injuries are never a good thing for an athlete of Olsen’s caliber. Ironically, his previous surgery is actually helping the talented tight end this time around. The screw that doctors inserted during his original surgery actually kept the bone from completely breaking this time around.
The real question for the Panthers is just how much can they afford to count on Olsen moving forward. Just because he gets back onto the field doesn’t mean he won’t get injured again. Another foot injury would almost certainly require season ending surgery.
That’s at least part of the reason the team spent a fourth round pick on Ian Thomas. He’s nowhere near as polished as Olsen at the moment, but he is a superior athlete. Expecting him to ever develop into a like for like replacement for Olsen is wildly optimistic, but it is possible he can develop into a starting tight end down the road.
The right policy for the Panthers should be to utilize Olsen whenever he’s healthy. They can’t afford to craft their offense around his ability to make plays down the field, but they should make every effort to build that into individual game plans when he’s available. There’s no question he’s a receiver who Cam Newton really trusts when a big play is required.
Of course, the front office also went to great lengths to increase the number of trusted receivers on the Panthers roster this offseason. Devin Funchess and Christian McCaffrey continue to grow into trusted targets for their talented quarterback. New additions like D.J. Moore, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright look capable of establishing meaningful roles as the season goes along.
The Panthers offense doesn’t need Olsen as much as they used to, but an early return from injury would still give the Carolina attack a major boost. Don’t be surprised to see him back on the field sooner than anyone expected.