If getting back into the NFL wasn't intriguing enough for Jeff Nixon, coaching the Panthers' running backs offered quite the incentive: inheriting one of the most dynamic players in the league.
Christian McCaffrey became just the third player in league history to record both 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in a single season last year. Now, as Nixon helps install a new offensive scheme with the Panthers, he'll also try to keep pushing McCaffrey's ceiling.
In studying McCaffrey upon joining head coach Matt Rhule in his move from Baylor to Carolina, Nixon first noticed his star back's toughness.
"He is a tough, tough kid — very few negative runs," said Nixon, who also holds the title of senior offensive assistant.
"He can pass protect, which is an underrated quality for a running back in the NFL because we're gonna throw the ball 60 to 65 percent of the time. You've got to be able to protect the quarterback, and Christian can do that."
It's part of why McCaffrey rarely leaves the field, making him a prototypical "three-down back."
"On third down, he doesn't have to come out," Nixon said. "He can stay in, and he'll be able to protect Teddy (Bridgewater), and obviously, catch the ball out of the backfield."
Despite the new offense, McCaffrey's role isn't expected to be all that much different. He'll run the ball out of the backfield. He'll line up outside and run routes as a receiver. He'll have to protect the quarterback in known-passing situations.
But still, new schemes bring learning curves, and this offseason has brought a whole new challenge.
"It's definitely a challenge learning virtually, but (Nixon) has made it so easy for us in the way that he explains concepts and running back responsibilities," McCaffrey said.
"Obviously, he has a great résumé coaching not just running backs but all positions, so it's cool to see his perspective on the offense and continue to learn from him."