Panthers accustomed to life without TE Olsen

Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills.Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

RB Christian McCaffrey: "We're going to miss him while he's gone."

The Carolina Panthers have been through this before and figured it out, so losing tight end Greg Olsen early in the season for the second year in a row because of a foot injury is something they will deal with.

Olsen's absence impacts the offense in large part because he's a favorite target of quarterback Cam Newton.

"That's Cam's blankie," new receiver Torrey Smith said of the quarterback's comfort level.

So now going into the second game of the season with a trip to Atlanta on Sunday, the Panthers have to find a solution.

A year ago when Olsen missed half the season because of a similar injury, Ed Dickson stepped in and produced some memorable performances. It went so well for Dickson that he left via free agency.

Now it appears that rookie tight end Ian Thomas will be pressed into more duty.

Thomas was a fourth-round draft pick in the spring out of Indiana. He had a rather uneventful NFL debut with two catches for a total of four yards against the Dallas Cowboys.

Olsen caught two passes for 33 yards before departing with the first-half injury.

Thomas realizes he'll have more opportunities.

"I feel like I've got a lot to improve on," Thomas said. "That's something to look forward to in the next game. I played a lot more than I thought I would (in the first game)."

Thomas said it was good for him to have gone through a game before a potential role change.

"Getting my confidence high and getting a feel for the game was the biggest thing for me," he said.

The Panthers have another tight end with third-year pro Chris Manhertz, who's normally used in more blocking roles.

Manhertz was around last year when Olsen went out.

"It's not something I want to get used to," he said. "But it's the reality of things for me and Ian to step up and fill that void."

Olsen took a role as a mentor, even while watching the second half.

"He's always going to be there to help us," Thomas said.

As for Olsen landing on the injury list again, that's tough for the Panthers.

"We're going to miss him while he's gone, but I know he's going to do everything in his power to come back as fast as possible," running back Christian McCaffrey said.

Last year in the game at Atlanta, Dickson and Olsen combined for three catches for 32 yards against the Falcons, so it wasn't overwhelming production in that particular matchup.

SERIES HISTORY: 47th regular-season meeting. Falcons lead series, 28-18. The Panthers are 6-17 in road games against Atlanta. Last year, the teams met in Atlanta to close the regular season.