Matt Rhule hopeful Christian McCaffrey returns against Chiefs

Christian McCaffrey

CHARLOTTE — While running back Christian McCaffrey has missed Carolina's last six games with a high ankle sprain, his return seems imminent.

"I hope Christian will be back next week," head coach Matt Rhule said Friday, a day after Carolina fell to 3-5 with a loss to Atlanta.

Rhule mentioned several players who could return in Week 9 when the Panthers travel to face the Chiefs. But he added, "at the very least," he hopes McCaffrey and defensive tackle Zach Kerr — who missed Thursday's game with a toe injury — will be among them.

McCaffrey was designated to return from the reserve/injured list on Tuesday, beginning his 21-day practice window. He was on the field for that day's portion of practice open to the media, which included stretching. There was no media availability for Wednesday's practice, and because McCaffrey is not on the 53-man roster, his status was not included on the injury report.

"I think he was excited and exhilarated to be out there today, to be out there with his teammates, to have a chance to practice," Rhule said Tuesday. "I know he wants to play, but I also know he's a process guy and understands that we can't shortcut the process."

The Panthers did not activate McCaffrey for Thursday's game, electing to stick with Mike Davis as the starting running back. Rhule has been steadfast in saying Carolina will not activate McCaffrey until he's fully healthy.

McCaffrey suffered the injury in the second half of the Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. In two games this season, McCaffrey recorded 223 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns.

In eight games, Davis has 594 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. He had 13 carries for 66 yards and a reception for 11 yards in Thursday's loss to Atlanta.

View in-game photos from Thursday Night Football as the Panthers take on the Falcons.

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