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Veteran Panthers tight end Greg Olsen getting better with age, setting tone for the offense

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula believes the eight-year NFL veteran Greg Olsen is "getting better" with each passing season.

It's hard to argue with the numbers.

Olsen is in the midst of a career year for the Panthers and is turning into the focal point of their passing game.

He's on pace to post career highs in receptions, yards receiving and touchdowns. His 27 receptions are tops on the team and third-most among NFL tight ends, and he has 326 yards and four TDs through five games.

"He's so consistent," quarterback Cam Newton said.

On Sunday, Olsen caught two touchdown passes from Newton, including the go-ahead score with 2:18 left in the game helping the Panthers overcome a 14-point first-half deficit and beat his former team, the Chicago Bears, 31-24.

"Greg didn't do anything that he hasn't been doing for us all season," Newton said.

Or in the previous three seasons.

Olsen led the Panthers with 73 receptions last year after catching 69 and 45 his two previous seasons in Carolina. This year he's on pace to catch 86 passes for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns.

He has never garnered the same attention as Jimmy Graham in New Orleans or Rob Gronkowski in New England, partly because his numbers aren't as gaudy. But that isn't something the son of a football coach spends a lot of time worrying about.

"My overall goal is every week and every game is for my teammates to see what I do to prepare and how hard I play and try to do the right things," Olsen said. "I don't do everything great, I don't do everything perfect but I feel like guys can rely on me. If guys look at me and say we want him on our side then that's good enough for me.

"I'm not so much worried about the touchdown dances and the celebrations and drawing all the attention. I try to do my job and that's all I'm worried about."

It's pretty clear the Panthers are quite content with their 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end.

PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen (88) celebrates his touchdown catch against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen (88) celebrates his touchdown catch against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Coach Ron Rivera said Olsen has been exactly what the Panthers expected when they acquired him in 2011 from the Chicago Bears.

He's a dynamic pass-catching tight end," Rivera said. "He plays the role that you're looking for as the guy that can attack the middle of a team's defense. His ability to get open and find spaces and make those tough catches is important."

Olsen has become a popular figure in the Carolinas, and not just because of his production on the field.

He's one of the most active members of the team in the community, using his status as an elite athlete to help raise money for several charities through his foundation, including the Levine Children's Hospital.

That's a cause particularly near to his heart.

Olsen's 2-year-old son T.J. recently underwent a third open-heart surgery to repair an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta as part of a rare disorder known as hypo-plastic left heart syndrome.

Olsen has done a remarkable job of balancing his professional career with his responsibilities at home.

Before one practice last month Olsen got a phone call during warmups and hurriedly left the field to drive to the hospital to be with his wife Kara after T.J. had a health scare.

All is fine now, and Olsen's focus is back on football.

Shula, for one, isn't surprised Olsen's numbers are on the rise. He called the 29-year-old Olsen one of the team's hardest workers in the offseason and said he's playing even more physical than in previous seasons.

He pointed to Olsen running over a Bears defender on Sunday on a first down catch as an example.

"I didn't see that as much the first two years," Shula said. "He just gets better."


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PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Greg Olsen (88) celebrates his touchdown catch against the Chicago Bears during the first half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
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