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Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey has one speed — full speed

Christian McCaffrey

CHARLOTTE – You see Christian McCaffrey burst through the line at any given practice. Whistles blow, a play ends, and the Panthers' star running back will often take off for another 20-plus yards.

McCaffrey has prepared for the upcoming season at full throttle since training camp, when he pulled up to Wofford feeling “the best he’s ever felt.”

Head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers' staff made a conscious effort throughout training camp to preserve McCaffrey's intensity for Week 1 after he had two straight seasons cut short by injuries. Like last year, he didn't play a snap in any of the three preseason games.

But while McCaffrey never practiced three days in a row at high velocity, GPS devices that track each player's number of reps – and the intensity level of those reps – show he's kept his preparation at a high level.

“When you look at the GPS reports, even going two out of every three days, he still leads the backs,” Rhule said. "From his warm-up routine, to sprinting 60 yards after every play, it's kind of a war to try to get him not to do that sometimes – (we're) blowing the whistle five times.

"But that's what makes him special. That's what makes him who he is."

Coaches and teammates know Carolina needs a healthy, focused McCaffrey going into the season opener against Cleveland. He's a threat out of the backfield and in the passing game, tallying over 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in 2019, the last full season he played.

Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo shared a sense of excitement around McCaffrey's versatility, heaping praise upon the tailback's ability to do everything from running between tackles to catching balls from a "variety of different locations."

"Christian is a complete football player," McAdoo said. "He's not (just) a complete running back. He can do a lot of different things for you. … That's a nice piece to have in your offense. Guys like Christian don't grow on trees, you know."

Neither do people who work the way he does.

McCaffrey's teammates haven't seen him skip a beat since his return. Wide receiver DJ Moore said he sees the 2019 McCaffrey on the practice field this year.

"It speaks volumes to how everyone should want to elevate their game," Moore said of McCaffrey's routine. "Seeing him do that, I do more. I'm doing way more than I was doing (when I started) because you can see it paying off for your body when you watch him."

Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey doesn't go into great detail on his warm-up rituals or weight room habits, but his teammates have taken notes throughout the years.

Tight end Ian Thomas credited McCaffrey for his appreciation of ELDOA, an exercise technique consisting of postures and stretches. The method is meant to create space within targeted areas of the body and improve joint mechanics, and Thomas said the technique's movements have been helpful for him and the rest of the Panthers.

"He's just on the next level," Thomas said of McCaffrey. "You ask him about (routine), take pieces from his stuff and use it yourself, and maybe it makes you better."

"… He had the whole team doing (ELDOA). I still use it to this day. It helps."

Offensive lineman Brady Christensen said he was taken aback the first time he saw McCaffrey running on the field before practice. Christensen's immediate thought? "That dude looks like a gazelle."

"You could notice right away how athletic he is," Christensen said. "But that's because of his hard work. It's not just because he's gifted. He's obviously gifted, but his hard work adds to it."

Tight end Tommy Tremble echoed the praise of McCaffrey's drive, saying it's part of the reason he's "the best in the league."

"He has a specific warm-up routine that a lot of guys probably wouldn't even be able to keep up with," Tremble said. "I see him doing that every single day. There's not a day he doesn't do it. There are no days off for him. So seeing him do that, especially stuff in the training room, making sure he's good every day, it's like, 'That's a professional.'"

Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey's talent has been historically utilized at a high clip across Carolina's offense, and Rhule said that isn't going to change because he's coming off two injury-marred seasons.

Rhule said the Panthers are proud of their roster development, returning Chuba Hubbard and adding D'Onta Foreman, who performed well last season with the Titans in place of an injured Derrick Henry. And having a big back like Foreman gives them a chance to organically take some of the load off McCaffrey, since Foreman's a legitimate short-yardage option.

But even though he likes the pieces behind McCaffrey, Rhule said the Panthers wouldn't be playing him less because of them.

"Hopefully, some of the load can be dispersed because we want it to be dispersed, but we're going to play Christian because we think he can impact the game," Rhule said. "If he gets banged up at some point, we're just going to work on getting him back. We're not going to spend too much time worried about 'Hey, let's not get him hurt.' To me, that's equivalent to him not being on the field."

Christian McCaffrey

That workload is likely what the perpetually intense and persistently competitive McCaffrey would want.

And he has prepared for it regardless.

"I just try to be myself, whatever that is," McCaffrey said. "I think I've always had a strong approach to the game, respect for the game, and all the challenges it possesses. Obviously, this week being Cleveland, (I'm) doing my job at a high level. It takes what it takes."

View photos from Wednesday's practice at the Atrium Health practice fields.

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