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Panthers TE Ian Thomas ready to replace Greg Olsen

Talk surrounding the Carolina Panthers' future at quarterback will continue to get a lot of attention this offseason. The conversation at tight end, despite recent events, hasn't nearly been as loud.

At least for the time being.

Ian Thomas, the Panthers' fourth-round draft pick in 2018, is hoping that'll remain the case in the wake of Carolina mainstay Greg Olsen's departure on Jan. 30.

"I think my first couple years were solid. I'm not really a person that likes to look into the future. But I'll do my best to make sure I'm preparing for the next upcoming season as much as I can," Thomas told Joseph Person of The Athletic. "Hopefully, that's a good thing and that's a great season ahead of me. But I like to live in the now."

For Carolina, the now is focusing on replacing Olsen, whose successful nine-season Panthers run saw him become both a fan favorite in Charlotte and a favorite target of Cam Newton's. With Olsen gone, only Newton remains as the bastion of a notable era in the franchise's history that included recently retired linebacker Luke Kuechly and recently departed head coach Ron Rivera.

Thomas, who will turn 24 this June, spent his first two seasons under the tutelage of Olsen. The likelihood of Thomas going into Year 3 without Olson was always on the table, given Olsen's age and injury history. Finding out via social media, like most people did, that the possibilty would be the reality made it even more shocking for Thomas.

"I was really caught off guard by it. Yeah, it was definitely a surprise to me," Thomas said. "I really didn't know what to think, honestly. I always thought the Panthers loved Greg and he'd be there forever, really."

Being suddenly elevated to the top of the depth chart isn't uncharted territory for Thomas, who started six games his rookie year after Olsen re-injured his foot in Week 1. In his nine career starts (three in 2019), Thomas has totaled 26 catches for 300 yards.

There's a chance the team could still look to address his position through the draft and/or free agency so Thomas isn't ready to claim the No. 1 spot. But he hopes it'll be his sooner rather than later.

"I think so. But, I mean, I'm not sure how everything is going to pan out," he said. "But, yeah, that's what I'm hoping for."

A wave of change has swept over the Panthers over the last couple months, and Thomas figures to be at the forefront of the team's rebuilding efforts.

Head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady, both of whom Thomas has yet to meet in-person, will lead that charge for Thomas and Co. The future looks bright at running back and receiver; now is the time for Thomas to solidify the spot at his position.

"I heard they were all great guys and they were all coaches that you would love to play for in your career. So I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "I'm definitely looking forward to everything that's coming, honestly."

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