CHARLOTTE — Unless you've been living under a rock, you likely know that running back Christian McCaffrey reached a historic mark of 1,000 yards rushing and receiving last year. He became just the third player in the league's 100 seasons to accomplish the feat, illustrating just how rare the production was.
But the Panthers reshaped their offense this offseason under head coach Matt Rhule. There's an emphasis on speed on the outside with new coordinator Joe Brady, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and wide receiver Robby Anderson. Plus, tight end Ian Thomas is poised to step into a more significant role in his third season.
The unit has a lot to prove, but at this point, it looks like Carolina's offense has a lot of weapons. In theory, that could prevent McCaffrey from reaching the double 1,000 club for a second consecutive year.
How does he feel about that?
"I don't think it matters," McCaffrey said. "The biggest statistic is winning, and that's all I've really ever cared about."
Good thing, too, because Rhule is taking the same approach.
"I don't mean this in any disrespect — him getting 1,000/1,000 is not a focus of mine," Rhule said. "Christian's a winner, and I know he wants to win. So obviously, our best chance of winning is him playing really well, but I'm not caught up in anything like that."
McCaffrey reached those gaudy numbers last year by leading the league with 403 touches. He was also on the field for 93 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps, which is an unusually high amount for a running back. Only right tackle Taylor Moton and center Matt Paradis played more on Carolina's offense.
Rhule is aware of those numbers and wants the offense to spread the ball around. But he's not planning on restricting McCaffrey's snaps.
"I think anybody playing that much is a lot, as many people haven't done it. But we're certainly not going to say, 'Hey, let's limit Christian,'" Rhule said. "We're going to use all those guys and try to give people different looks and take advantage of the talent that we have. If that results in him having a lot of plays and a lot of touches, great. If it's a little bit lower, so be it.
"But at the end of the the day, he's still the focal point of our offense, so it's always going to be a high number. I just think the biggest thing is using him in the right ways at the right times to maximize his production."
Much of McCaffrey's success in 2020 will be determined by the performance of Carolina's new-look offensive line. The running back said the communication between him and the five men up front has worked well. They're working through establishing chemistry.
"The biggest thing we're focusing on now is making sure everybody's on the same page so that we can go out there and play fast," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey has been doing some work during individual drills with the wide receivers, which raised a question to Rhule as to whether he thought McCaffrey could be split out wide full-time.
"Christian could do whatever he wanted to," Rhule said. "I think Christian could go over there and be a fantastic receiver, but I also think he could play safety and be one heck of a safety. He's just a football guy, and he's driven to excel."
Rhule hasn't coached McCaffrey for very long but, he's already well aware of the running back's drive and meticulous practice habits.
"He has a personal standard that's so high," Rhule said. "You look at Christian, you know what the standard is, you know his standards, and you have to ask yourself, 'Why shouldn't I make that my standard?' If our whole team played that hard, we'd be really, really good. So that's the direction we're all pushing ourselves in right now."
Entering his fourth season, McCaffrey is embracing a bigger leadership role. He understands what it means to set the standard and that there must be a sense of urgency to get the club ready to perform on Sept. 13 when the Raiders come to town.
"I think it's about practicing with intent, meeting with intent. Everything you do has to be with intent," McCaffrey said. "Knowing we don't have preseason games and we didn't have OTAs, I think those are all good excuses. But we have to be ready to roll when it comes to the first game against (Las Vegas)."
NEWS AND NOTES
— Rhule, McCaffrey, and offensive lineman Dennis Daley all expressed well wishes to Washington head coach Ron Rivera. The former Panthers coach revealed Thursday night he was recently diagnosed with cancer.
"I know it's unique, me being here, but it's the coaching profession, and it's the coaching community, and we understand we all take different jobs and different things. But I have the utmost respect for Coach, and he's been nothing but kind to me since I took this job," Rhule said. "I wish him the best as he wins the battle with cancer."
"I reached out to him yesterday. I mean, what an unfortunate deal. I think when you think about Coach Rivera, the first thing I think about is toughness. He's going to handle it like a champ — I already know it. My prayers go to him, and his family and I know the whole Carolinas have his back."
— Linebacker Shaq Thompson returned to practice on Friday. He had been dealing with groin tightness over the past couple of practices.
"He hasn't pulled it. But we're in that soft tissue phase where guys start getting tugs and pulls, and we still have to practice," Rhule said. "So, he's battling through it."
— Wide receiver Curtis Samuel was limited with hamstring tightness.
— Wide receiver Omar Bayless (knee) remained out. Bayless apparently re-aggravated a previous knee injury but was slated to see a doctor on Friday. Rhule said he was hopeful to have Bayless back for one of the Panthers' next two practices.
View photos from Friday's training camp practice.