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Ravens wary of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen despite quiet return

As a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Tony Jefferson clashed with the Carolina Panthers four times and helped limit tight end Greg Olsen to an average of 3.8 receptions and 60 yards. But in one game, Olsen caught six balls for 113 yards in a 49-15 thrashing in the NFC playoffs.

“I’ve had my battles with him,” said Jefferson, now with the Ravens, who will tangle with Carolina on Sunday. “He’s a great player. He’s been to the Pro Bowl and all that. He can run. He’s got good routes. So it’ll be a good challenge.”

Olsen, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has been one of quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite targets, catching more than 75 passes and racking up more than 1,000 yards in each of three consecutive seasons from 2014 to 2016. But injuries have dogged the tight end, who re-fractured his right foot in the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 9 and sat out three straight games.

Since his return, Olsen has six receptions for 53 yards and one touchdown in two games. But Panthers coach Ron Rivera said his trust in Olsen has not wavered.

“He’s a threat through the middle of the defense,” Rivera said Wednesday during a conference call with Baltimore media. “I think they just can’t go, ‘Oh, we can throw a guy on him.’ They have to throw a guy that can cover on him, and I think that helps the other players that are out there. Yes, he’s had a slow start, but again, let’s just remember, the dude was off for five weeks. He was away from football, and I think a lot of it is just him getting back into it.”

The Ravens have generally been solid against tight ends this season. But in Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints, former Raven Benjamin Watson caught six balls for 43 yards and one score. As potent as Olsen might be, free safety Eric Weddle said he likes the defense’s chances.

“I like our guys covering him,” he said. “Tony matches up well with him, ‘Veen’ [Anthony Levine Sr.], myself. So we’re not scared of anybody. We’ll go there and attack him, and we’ll see what happens.”

Olsen isn’t the only worry for the Ravens, who must concern themselves with Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Devin Funchess. It’s enough to make defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale a little green around the gills.

“I mean, he’s an All-Pro, Pro Bowler, probably Hall of Fame tight end that hurt his foot,” Martindale said of Olsen. “You can see each week that he gets better. We know how good he is, trust me. So they have some weapons, obviously, starting with [No.] 1 [Newton]. Then you guys can just keep mentioning them. So I’m going to go throw up after this is over.”

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