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Panthers' Greg Olsen: NFL's best tight end with a toboggan hat in 95-degree heat

SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Greg Olsen almost took off his signature toboggan hat during training-camp warmups Sunday as the heat index topped 110 degrees and the humidity became thick enough to cut.

Almost.

“It was hot as hell in warmups, but I made it through,’’ said the Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl tight end. “Obviously, I’m not going to take this thing off. I’m going to pass out before I take this off.’’

The toboggan is Olsen’s trademark. After a college career at Miami, he began wearing them as a rookie in 2007 with the Chicago Bears to keep his head warm, and it stuck.

He has by his estimate somewhere between 50 and 100 of these hats. You seldom see the 31-year-old working out, standing on the sideline or warming up before practice without the toboggan, no matter the temperature.

It’s not a fashion statement. And it’s not to cover up a loss of hair; Olsen’s blond locks would rival those of anybody in the NFL.

Maybe even Hollywood.

“I just like it,’’ Olsen said. “It keeps me warm. I don’t know. I just do it.’’

Wearing a toboggan in 95-degree heat is about as crazy as it gets for Olsen. He’s nowhere near the character that New England tight end Rob Gronkowski is considered, and Olsen doesn’t want to be.

But he shouldn’t be overlooked in the argument for best tight end in the NFL because he doesn’t host party cruises, pose shirtless on the cover of GQ Magazine or get asked to be on the cover of Madden NFL video games.

Olsen shouldn’t be overlooked because he’s built more like a Ferrari than a Hummer, because he doesn’t live off his endorsements or have a book entitled “It’s Good to be Greg.’’

Olsen is every bit as valuable to the Panthers as Gronkowski is to the Patriots.

Maybe more.

Over the past three seasons, Olsen has more catches (234 to 193) and receiving yards (2,928 to 2,892) than Gronkowski (who did miss nine games to injury in 2013).

And Olsen accounted for 28.5 percent of Carolina’s receiving yardage in 2015, most among tight ends. Gronkowski was at 24.4 percent.

He has a chance to become the first tight end in NFL history to record three consecutive seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving.

Gronkowski’s biggest edge over Olsen is in touchdowns: 27 to 19.

But when people talk about the best tight end in the NFL, Gronkowski’s name always comes up first.

Except when you ask Olsen. He doesn’t compare himself to Gronkowski any more than he compares his toboggans to Cam Newton's hats.

“That’s not my position to compare myself to other guys,’’ Olsen said. “I look at it as can I be productive, can I get the job done? I would argue there’s not a lot of guys that has to do more than just catch the ball like me. [Gronkowski] is one of them.’’

Not about the body

Olsen was asked what he thought of new tight end Eric Wallace, a former college basketball player and Australian rules football player who hasn’t played American football since the fourth grade.

“He looks great in a uniform,’’ Olsen said of the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Wallace.

That’s what many say about Gronkowski, 6-6, 265. That’s not what many say about Olsen, who is no slouch at 6-5, 253.

“That hasn’t usually been at the top of my scouting report,’’ Olsen said with a laugh. “That’s never been my No. 1 claim to fame. But I’ll play.’’

Olsen beats you with his precise route running, his hands and his ability to find the open seam when there doesn’t appear to be one. He’s solid as a blocker, as well.

He just can’t beat you with brute strength the way Gronkowski does.

“My body type and physique has allowed me to be pretty dynamic and allowed me to do multiple things, both in the run game and the pass game,’’ Olsen said.

Asked if he’d ever thought about what he could do with Gronkowski’s frame, Olsen didn’t hesitate.

“I’m pretty happy with mine,’’ he said. “Mine’s served me pretty well for 10 years. I played a lot of games with this body, so I’ll take it.’’

The next Olsen

The Panthers spent a lot of effort during the offseason looking for a third tight end to play behind Olsen and Ed Dickson.

They drafted Beau Sandland in the seventh round, claimed Marcus Lucas off waivers from Chicago, signed Duke’s Braxton Deaver as an undrafted free agent and added Wallace.

Scott Simonson, the third tight end much of last season, also remains in the mix.

“The realization is last year we were down in tight ends,’’ coach Ron Rivera said. “What we have to be careful with is Greg Olsen. He’s down to his 10th season and he’s a premier tight end in this league. Ed Dickson has come a long way, but after that, we have to find out.

“We’re looking for the complete-package guy.’’

They are looking for the next Olsen. That won’t be easy when you consider all Olsen brings to the table.

“Greg has maybe the best hands on our team,’’ Deaver said. “I’m sure you’ve all seen that. Greg makes catches routinely. Greg understands defenses better than most people I know.

“Greg is very fast. People don’t understand, he’s still very, very fast at [31]. Greg understands zone concepts. He understands maybe better than they know where they’re supposed to be, so he’s able to settle and run by people.’’

And Olsen can wear a toboggan hat in 95-degree heat like nobody can.

“It’s what I do,’’ Olsen said. “I just like it.’’