With Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Jerricho Cotchery, Tedd Ginn Jr, Corey Brown and, oh yeah, Greg Olsen, the Carolina Panthers are trying to surround quarterback Cam Newton with weapons.
“I think it’s pretty clear kind of where the NFL is going,” Olsen told Damon Amendolara and Jason La Canfora, who were filling in as co-hosts of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s a passing league now. It’s become a quarterback-driven league. So obviously starting with Cam, getting him locked up (was important). If you look round, all the top quarterbacks – for as good as they are – they all have a lot of guys around them. They have multiple weapons, they have multiple guys that they can rely on, and it puts a lot of pressure on defenses – that there’s not just one guy to take away or one position group (to slow down). We’re pretty balanced. We have running backs who can all get after you and they’re tough to bring down. We got guys on the outside – big bodies who can go up and get the ball. We got some guys at tight end with Ed Dickson coming back. He can do a lot. So I think we’ve made a commitment to our offense and we’ll see how it goes.”
Olsen, 30, arrived in Carolina in 2011 – the same year Newton was drafted. Olsen has been extremely impressed with Newton’s evolution as a player and as a person over the past four years.
“I think you couldn’t ask for any more,” Olsen said. “I think you couldn’t ask for a better transition. For a kid that came in with such high hopes, high expectations, a 2-14 team the year before, gets drafted No. 1 overall, new head coach, Heisman Trophy, national champion – all the stars align there for putting you right in the bright lights and the spotlight. To go out and have the year he had personally, win Rookie of the Year – he got off to such a hot (start). But then everyone wanted to see the team success. That was always the rallying cry from the critics: ‘He needs to win in the playoffs. He needs to make the playoffs.’ Well, we’ve gone to back-to-back playoffs, back-to-back division championships. Last year, (we) got over that first step of winning a playoff game. So I think what he’s been able to do and the way he carries himself and his maturity, I don’t know if you could ask for any more.”
The Panthers struggled to a 7-8-1 season last year, as controversy surrounding star defensive end Greg Hardy engulfed the team.
“It takes its toll,” Olsen said of the unwanted attention. “It’s never how you want to be covered. It’s never how you want to be represented. I’m sure Greg would say the same thing: That’s not how he wanted to be remembered. That’s not how he wants to be represented. And hopefully he moves forward here in a way that allows people to get past that. But in the process of it last year, it was obviously not ideal, but I think the biggest thing was it just took our defense a minute to . . . make some adjustments. I think that’s normal. You prepare an entire season, you do an entire offseason of planing and training camp and preseason expecting one of the best players on your team to be there – and then obviously he’s not. But it’s not like when he’s injured. You know a timeline (with an injury). The timeline was up in the air. There was a lot of questions, there was a lot of rumblings, and it took a little while for those rumblings to go away. It kind of seems like after everyone kind of digested that for a minute, it allowed everyone to move forward and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to worry about that. Let’s move forward without him. As good of a player as he is, this is the situation we’re in. We got to play well (in his absence).’ And guys stepped up. That defense finished the year as good as anybody in the league.”
Hardy was charged with domestic abuse and missed 15 games last season. Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he was suspended for the first 10 games of the 2015 season but had his sentence reduced to four games.
Olsen had trouble wrapping his head around both punishments.
“Where did these numbers come from?” he asked. “What is the rationale? What is the rhyme and reason? I think, to be honest, there is no rhyme or reason. I don’t think there’s any rationale. I think that’s the confusing point for players. When players get up and the union fights for the players – the union’s not fighting for players that are breaking the law and abusing women. Of course not. All they’re fighting for is consistency, transparency and just at least let the players know where they stand. I think that’s the biggest issue we’re struggling with between the league and players is that right there.”