Greg Olsen injury leaves Panthers searching for options

Tight end suffered broken foot in home opener

Panthers tight end Greg Olsen walks on crutches after breaking his foot Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. (Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports)

CHARLOTTE — To say Cam Newton needs Greg Olsen is an understatement.

In his seventh year in the NFL, Newton has thrown 138 touchdown passes. Twenty two percent of them went to Olsen. The All-Pro tight end is also responsible for 23 percent of Newton’s completions and 22 percent of his passing yards.

In his career, Newton has a .623 completion rate and a 95.57 passer rating when he throws the ball to Olsen. When he throws elsewhere, those numbers drop to .574 and 83.52. In other words, without Olsen to throw to, Newton turns into Jay Cutler.

“Greg is an extremely key artery for our team,” Newton said.

That’s a problem, because Olsen went down with a broken foot during Sunday’s win over the Bills.

“I was running a route, and I just stepped and fell,” Olsen said. “I didn’t touch anybody. I didn’t get hit. It’s just the way my foot went down. It just popped.”

He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday and can’t return for at least eight weeks.

“I’m going to miss a lot of games,” he said.

Which leaves Newton and the Panthers offense searching for a new top target just two weeks into the season. How do the Panthers move on without Olsen? Here are the best options:

Use the backups

Ed Dickson caught 111 passes for 1,178 yards in four years with the Ravens before coming to Carolina. He’s gotten wide open in each of the first two games this year, only to have Newton miss him with passes. Once they get on the same page, he should be a reliable target.

“I told (offensive coordinator David) Shula, ‘I know the jersey number don’t say 88, but don’t change the playbook,’’’ Dickson said.

The other tight end currently on the roster is Chris Manhertz, who is in just his third year of organized football after playing basketball in college. His next catch will be his second career reception.

“I have full faith in Ed and guys underneath him,’’ Newton said. “We won’t miss anything. Ed is ready to blossom. He’s a diamond in the rough.’’

Bring in a tight end

Former Virginia Tech standout Bucky Hodges is on the practice squad and could be promoted. He had 133 catches for 1,747 yards in three years with the Hokies.

The free agent market is fairly dry. Gary Barnidge, who played for the Panthers in Newton’s first two seasons, is probably the best available. Several other players who were recent training camp cuts with Carolina are also out there, including Beau Sandland, Bryce Williams and Eric Wallace.

Jacob Tamme is probably the best receiving threat on the market, although he’d have a learning curve with the Panthers’ offense.

Use running backs

Carolina often puts tight ends in the fullback spot, so Shula could put a running back in that role. The team is looking for ways to use first-rounder Christian McCaffrey, so he could be a fit. Fullback Alex Armah could also be promoted from the practice squad.