Carolina Panthers

Stewart proving his worth

Rookie Jonathan Stewart says he's not the type to do funky celebratory dances when he scores touchdowns.

So it was slightly out of character for him to cross the goal line with a hop and a stomp at the end of a 50-yard run in last Saturday's exhibition against the Washington Redskins.

"It was just the moment," he said. "It [was] an expression of joy."

It was a moment that represented so much for Stewart, a running back taken with the 13th pick of the NFL draft.

"It was like, 'I'm here now,' " he said.

It was his first pro touchdown and the first time he's been able to show his teammates a true glimpse of his enormous potential.

It was proof his right big toe, which underwent offseason surgery and has caused the team to bring him along slowly, was healthy despite soreness from scar tissue.

The play was the first time he has run full speed since getting timed for scouts at the NFL combine in February. After five months of rehabilitation, he said he "let it roll."

"It meant a lot," he said. "It was reassuring that [to show] 'this is what I can do and this is what I'm here for.' "

Stewart also had runs of 11, 12 and 13 yards en route to a 10-carry, 100-yard effort.

He didn't play in the Panthers' first exhibition against Indianapolis and had only four carries for 3 yards at Philadelphia.

Though Stewart had some eye-catching runs during practices, quarterback Jake Delhomme said Saturday night's performance was easily the most Stewart has done to impress his teammates.

"When he was practicing, he was very quiet," Delhomme said. "I'm sure he was going through some sore points with his foot - and rightfully so.

"The great players, they want to prove to their team that they're good. He hasn't had a chance to show a whole lot yet. I promise you, mentally, inside, he's thinking, 'I want to do well.' And he [did]. That does wonders for somebody."

Delhomme also was impressed by Stewart's blocking on a 24-yard touchdown pass to Dante Rosario.

But it was the 50-yard run that really dazzled Delhomme.

"You saw a different spark in him," Delhomme said. "You saw that explosion through the line and then that extra gear he hit when he ran away from the safety."

Stewart alternated offensive possessions with fellow running back DeAngelo Williams against the Redskins. Williams ran for 101 yards, including a 60-yard TD that happened less than three minutes after Stewart scored.

Together, they could be one of the NFL's most formidable rushing tandems.

The Panthers also are considering using Stewart as a kickoff returner, something he did well at Oregon (school record 26.9 yards per return). Though the extra duty increases his injury risk, Stewart said he welcomes the opportunity.

He wants more visits to the end zone, but he will never forget his first on Saturday. It included a congratulatory hug from wide receiver Steve Smith.

"He's one of the most dominating receivers, in my eyes, in this league," Stewart said of Smith. "To have him come and give you props is something [special]. I wouldn't have told you a year ago or six months ago that Steve Smith would be meeting me in the end zone."

Despite Stewart's humble demeanor, there's nothing bashful about his dreams:

"I don't want it said, 'He was pretty good.'

"I want to be one of the great ones."

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