Camp Observations: McCaffrey feels "great" with practice plan

Christian McCaffrey

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – An off day or two does Christian McCaffrey well.

On Friday, he returned from a two-day break – one day off for himself and one day off for the team – chipper and strong, breaking free on rushes with the first team unit and turning flips in the end zone during a break period.

The Panthers' star running back has been on a practice plan since returning from an ankle injury last season. His regimen includes a rhythm of off days between running at practice without restrictions.

After going full speed on Friday, McCaffrey said he's feeling great.

"I think those days off are important," McCaffrey said. "You've got to make sure on those days off that you're doing everything to get ready for the next day. That's the purpose of it. So it's an off day, but you're still working.

"You're doing a lot of stuff with the trainers, you're doing stuff with the strength coaches – strength stuff, flexibility stuff, to get ready for that next day. But I feel great."

It's good news for not only McCaffrey, but his teammates who feel a difference when McCaffrey is on the field, wherever he lines up.

"When Christian's on the field, you've got to account for him," wide receiver DJ Moore said. "Whether he's out wide, inside, in the backfield, it just opens up all the one-on-ones out there on the field. Having him – shoot – just opens up everything."

Head coach Matt Rhule has said McCaffrey likely wouldn't go three days in a row with padded practices, and that he's comfortable with the workload he's been given in training camp.

Rhule said McCaffrey often gets a lot of "high-speed yardage" even on days he isn't practicing, which is part of the plan they've put together for him.

"I think the plan for him is a really good one," Rhule said.

The good news is that when McCaffrey is on the field, he's making those reps count.

–– A few new Panthers were on the sidelines Friday. Terrace Marshall Jr. wore a red non-participant jersey and did not practice due to a "lower leg strain," Rhule said.

The second-year wide receiver remained on the stationary bike throughout practice, breaking from a flashy yet consistent camp. Rhule said it "shouldn't be too long" until Marshall is back on the field.

Offensive lineman Austin Corbett did not dress out for practice after he had an ingrown toenail removed Thursday, and tight end Stephen Sullivan missed practice due to a family matter, Rhule said.

–– Jaycee Horn was out of pads for the first time since his return to action after reaggravating his foot.

Rhule said Horn's status was "part of the protocol" and didn't offer further details into his condition other than he'd be back "early next week."

Cornerbacks Keith Taylor Jr. (hamstring) and Duke Dawson remained in red jerseys as well.

–– Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold split reps with the first team across drills, in one of the "mixed" rep days.

Mayfield worked with the first team offense in the opening team period, while Darnold took first-team reps in a red zone period. He connected on touchdown passes with Brandon Zylstra and C.J. Saunders during the drill.

Rhule said the Panthers will be taking a look at the full body of work before making a decision on the starting quarterback position.

"We try to look at it straight across the board over time," Rhule said. "It comes down to who can function within the scheme and has great scheme mastery, who has production, who leads the team, who takes care of the football, and then who manages the situations.

"Great quarterbacks show up in the red zone. They show up in two-minute. They show up on third down. So we're going to look at that over a long time and see, but those are the areas we're looking at."

Rookie quarterback Matt Corral, working at his own pace, continued to grow more comfortable in Ben McAdoo's offense, when he connected for a nice touchdown pass with wide receiver Keith Kirkwood in a 2-on-2 drill.

–– Rookie offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu took some reps with the first-team offense at left tackle, lining up beside Brady Christensen, who slid into the left guard spot. Christensen has previously taken reps at first-team left tackle beside Michael Jordan at guard.

Rhule said the swap was due to Corbett's absence at right guard; they moved Jordan to Corbett's spot beside right tackle Taylor Moton and filled in Jordan's spot with Christensen, leaving a place for Ekwonu on the first team.

Rhule said they're still looking into combinations along the offensive line, while he and offensive line coach James Campen base all of their evaluations on tape – not preconceived expectations.

"Now a couple weeks in, we're going to really see on tape," Rhule said. "We're not going to do it based off of where anyone was drafted, or what expectations are. We're going to do it off of tape."

–– Gaffney High School's football team stopped by the practice fields at Wofford for a "Unified Practice." The day included stretches and warm-ups and chats between the high schoolers and pros.

The Panthers even took a short break from practice to watch Gaffney scrimmage, a program that won the South Carolina High School League 5A state championship last year.

"This is the dream of a young kid – the position that those guys have," Gaffney head coach Dan Jones said. "Just for our kids to be able to step on the field – even me, I've not been on the field with a pro football team. This is something they can remember for the rest of their life."

–– Brian Burns crashed McCaffrey's press conference after practice, embedding with the media as a representative from "B.B. Love Entertainment.

In a lighthearted venture into a new profession, Burns asked McCaffrey: "How is it going against Brian Burns? That's an amazing guy, isn't he?"

"Brian Burns is such a good ball player," McCaffrey replied with a smile. "He's a little bit weird off the field, and he has some issues, but when it comes to on the field, he's such a good player. It's special to watch."

View all of the best practice photos from Friday's training camp action in Wofford.

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