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Christian McCaffrey set to continue practicing, nearing return


CHARLOTTE — Running back Christian McCaffrey is set to continue practicing this week as the Panthers get ready to visit the Super Bowl champion Chiefs.

"I think he looks good. It just comes to the doctors and trainers and all those things," head coach Matt Rhule said Monday. "I'm real hopeful we'll have him."

McCaffrey has been sidelined since suffering a high ankle sprain in a Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers. The Panthers designated him to return from the reserve/injured list last Tuesday, beginning his 21-day practice window. McCaffrey didn't do much during the media portion of practice on Tuesday, and there was no open period on Wednesday.

Running back Mike Davis has performed admirably in McCaffrey's absence, recording 519 yards from scrimmage with four touchdowns over the last six games. But the Panthers have missed the 2019 first-team All-Pro at two positions, who last year became only the third player in league history to record 1,000 yards receiving and rushing.

"Christian just brings elite production. Days where you're not great on third down, he's a tremendous third-down matchup. Explosive runs, catching the ball out of the backfield — he's one of the best players in the National Football League," Rhule said. "I think Christian will bring an energy, a level of production that will make our team better."

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater doesn't anticipate the offense changing that much when McCaffrey returns. Both backs can run between the tackles and go out for routes. Davis is second on the team with 38 receptions, behind only wide receiver Robby Anderson's 51.

"Honestly, everything that Mike has done, that's what Christian brings to the table as well," Bridgewater said. "Obviously, Christian coming off the year that he had last year, he's a guy that's exceptional. But at the same time, you never want to take away what Mike did for us. For him to step in and do the things that he's done, he's been a true pro. He's been working extremely hard.

"But Christian is a guy you get back, and everyone saw what he did last year, what he did the first two games this year. So we're just excited to be getting healthy at this point in the year."

There is a possibility the Panthers could use McCaffrey and Davis on the field at the same time, giving defenses more things to think about at the line of scrimmage. Wide receiver Curtis Samuel could be a factor in that, too, as the Panthers have occasionally used him in the backfield this season.

"Whether we do that or not remains to be seen. But that's been one of the benefits of having Curtis out there," Rhule said. "Even a couple of the times we've handed the ball to Curtis, at least one of them where we handed the ball to Curtis this last week, Mike was on the field out at receiver. We all know Christian's ability to line up and play receiver. So I think the door's open to be creative with those guys."

In two games this year, McCaffrey has 223 yards from scrimmage and four rushing touchdowns. With a challenging matchup against one of the league's best scoring teams coming up on Sunday, the Panthers could certainly use another their most versatile weapon.

"Christian's a special player. We've seen it year in and year out," center Matt Paradis said. "It'll be good to have him back."

Carolina is 2-4 all-time in six meetings with Kansas City through the years.

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