The Panthers were thrilled to get Greg Olsen back on the field today, but his foot injury will likely press Ian Thomas into significant playing time.
When Greg Olsen is healthy and on the field he’s one of Cam Newton’s most reliable wide receivers. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case much lately. After missing a big chunk of 2017 with a foot injury, the veteran tight end suffered another injury to the same foot today. It cost him the majority of the Panthers’ win over the Cowboys and could cost him more games in 2018.
At the moment, the team hasn’t issued any sort of injury update about the Pro Bowl tight end. That likely means they want to run more tests to secure a reliable diagnosis. That’s not what any Panthers fan would consider to be good news.
The options behind Olsen on the Panthers depth chart are entirely unproven. Chris Manhertz has played a fair amount of football for Carolina, but he’s best used as a physical blocker. He’s capable of making an occasional play in the passing game, but it’s certainly not his forte.
That’s precisely why the organization spent a fourth-round pick on Ian Thomas back in April. The former Indiana tight end hasn’t played a ton of football in his life, and the original plan was to let him sit behind Olsen and learn for the majority of the season. Obviously, those plans are going to have to change if Olsen is forced to miss any games due to injury.
The good news for Panthers fans is that Thomas is a big-time athlete. He’s a legitimate 6-foot-4, 260 pounds and he runs with the speed of a much smaller tight end. If Norv Turner and company can harness Thomas’ full potential, Carolina is going to have a dynamic weapon on their hands.
The down side to Thomas as a player is that he has a long way to go before he reaches that potential. There’s a reason he wasn’t a consensus first round prospect. He’s got the physical profile to be a starter in the NFL, but he didn’t show enough on his film as a college player to shoot up team’s draft boards. Thomas played like a guy who was always a little unsure of what to do with his size and speed.
In fairness to Thomas, no one will expect him to immediately replace Olsen’s production. The Panthers offense will change significantly to tailor to his skill set. That means you’ll see a lot more blocking from the tight end position. Thomas will still get chances to stretch the defense with long routes down the seam, but he won’t be a focus point of the offense.
Olsen’s absence is going to require several players on the Panthers offense to step up. Thomas has the talent to be a part of the solution, but the team can’t afford to ask too much from him so early in his career. Doing so might mentally overwhelm him to the point he can’t play quickly enough to be effective. That could cost Carolina valuable wins while Olsen is recovering.