CHARLOTTE – Rookie tight end Ian Thomas didn't get to keep the football following his first touchdown as a pro.
He doesn't plan on it being his last.
"It was definitely exciting," said Thomas, who gave the ball to someone in crowd at the instruction of quarterback Cam Newton. "He was teaching me the standards of scoring.
"I liked it. I didn't really have a problem with it. There's many more to come hopefully. That's what I'm shooting for."
Newton, who connected with Thomas for a 27-yard score in the second quarter of the Panthers' 27-20 preseason victory over the Dolphins, is a believer. It's a belief born of what he's seen in practice so far from Thomas but also from Thomas' teacher, Greg Olsen.
"He doesn't even know how good he is capable of being," Newton said. "I glance over from time to time in practice and see Greg taking it upon himself to take Ian up under his wing, showing him how to practice, how to finish, how to run certain routes.
"He couldn't be in a better situation learning from him every day. And when you see plays that happen, his natural skill set takes over."
The play was one that Thomas, the Panthers' pick to open the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft, made look effortless. On third-and-3 from Miami's 27-yard line, Thomas crossed in front of Newton, who hit him in stride at the 26. Thomas did the rest, steaming around the right side untouched into the end zone.
Olsen was among the first to congratulate Thomas on the sideline – after the rookie blocked for the extra point.
"He's doing a good job. I've said that all of camp," Olsen said. "He's a good kid. He studies hard, works hard, and it's nice to see him have that success in the game. It's good for young players to see that what they're doing is working."
Thomas said he could sense his progress even before the play, pushed forward by a growing feeling that he's starting to get the hang of it. That's no small feat for a rookie, especially for one who came to Carolina having logged just one full season plus a handful of snaps on the major college level.
"It's always difficult learning new stuff at the beginning, but as you go through it, it gets easier and easier and you start to understand it more," Thomas said. "I'm starting to understand it more, and the game is slowing down for me."