The Tampa Bay defense will face its first marquee tight end challenge of the season Sunday when Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers comes to Raymond James Stadium.
Bucs coaches and defenders are well aware of the headaches Olsen can cause, especially after last year’s second-ranked tight end in receiving yardage attacked the middle of the field for 18 combined receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown during a pair of Panthers wins.
“He does present quite a few challenges,” head coach Lovie Smith said Wednesday. “He’s got excellent speed, great hands and he’s been playing at a high level in this league for a long time.”
That level has only elevated since Olsen came to Carolina in 2011 after spending his first four years in the league playing under Smith in Chicago. His production reached its apex last year, when the 6-foot-5, 253-pounder out of Miami caught 84 of 122 targets for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. The full-season performance – Olsen’s seventh straight playing all 16 games – earned him his first Pro Bowl selection.
“He knows all the little ins and outs of playing tight end, whether it be [lining up] end line, in the backfield or split out wide, he’s got it down,” Smith said. “He’s had good games against us in the past, of course I know him personally, and they have some good weapons. But he is definitely one of the weapons.
“If I was them I’d try to get him the ball as much as possible, which I’m sure they’ll try to do and we need to be ready for that.”
Olsen will be the first tight end Tampa Bay faces this year who may potentially receive the bulk of an opposing quarterback’s targets. Backup Derek Anderson, under center for both Bucs games last year in place of starter Cam Newton, went No. 88’s way 11 times Week 1 and 13 times Week 16.
Last week against New Orleans, Olsen set a career-high in yards with 134 on eight receptions to go along with a pair of touchdowns. Through three games he’s been targeted 28 times, including 25 the past two against Houston and New Orleans.
Multiple Buccaneer defenders will be tasked with keeping tabs on Olsen throughout Sunday’s NFC South contest, specifically a linebacking corps showing signs of improvement against the pass but still lacking consistency.
“That’s a big challenge, especially at the linebacker spot because he can run routes, he gets open and he does a good job of blocking,” strongside linebacker Danny Lansanah said when asked about the challenges Olsen presents. “When you’ve got a guy like that that can do those things it’s very difficult. But we’ve got the guys in this locker room that can shut it down and get it done and that’s what we plan to do.”
Opposing tight ends have been kept in check up to this point. Tennessee’s Delaine Walker posted the most impactful stat line so far, catching three balls for 43 yards and a score. The Saints’ Benjamin Watson hauled in four passes for 42 yards in Week 2 and three other tight ends have caught a pass each for 37 combined yards.
That’s a total of 10 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown over three games – numbers almost identical to Olsen’s 10-catch, 110-yard game Week 16 in Carolina against Tampa Bay.
Of all current Buccaneer linebackers, four-year starter Lavonte David has the most experience trying to contain Olsen within Carolina’s offensive game plan. He spoke about the responsibility in front of his locker Wednesday and said the key is staying home and not overreaching and getting out of position.
“He has a set of skills that is very unique and we’re not really doing anything different,” David said. “We basically just have to stay within our scheme to take away [chances of] him getting the ball.”