CHARLOTTE — The Panthers were encouraged to see Christian McCaffrey on the field Wednesday, even if he was limited.
But Panthers head coach Matt Rhule insisted they would be smart with their star running back as he comes back from a hamstring strain.
"I don't know what that means in terms of where he'll be on Sunday," Rhule said. "Probably something that goes up to game time. We'll make the best decision for him and the team as we move forward."
Rhule said McCaffrey would likely be limited again on Thursday, and they'd keep their options open until Sunday. Mostly, they want to see how he progresses as he goes through steps of his recovery, from a little work, to more as the days go by.
Rhule said he'd only play McCaffrey "as long as he can go full speed."
"I'm not going to put him out there, I'm not going to put anyone out there if they're going at 95 percent," Rhule said. "It's like a protocol, you check each box along the way. . . .
"And when you get to Sunday, if he's responded well, if he feels good, then we'll play him. If he's not there, we don't. It's hard to guess along the way."
— Rhule said that linebacker Shaq Thompson would definitely miss this week's game with a strained plantar fascia, but there's "an outside chance" that it could be just a one-week absence.
It sounds more likely to be a couple of weeks, but the fact they didn't put him on IR (with the requisite three-week absence) suggests it's a shorter-term issue.
Rhule said they'd likely replace Thompson "by committee" and would rely on Jermaine Carter Jr. to play a larger role.
— Rhule was non-committal about how the offensive line would align.
Left tackle Cameron Erving was out of practice with a neck issue.
During training camp, Rhule said that Taylor Moton was likely the backup left tackle behind Erving. Wednesday, he mentioned that Trent Scott or Brady Christensen "would step into the lineup" if Erving didn't play, but he didn't specify where.
Asked if Moton could switch to the left, Rhule replied: "It's possible. It's always possible. But he's got a lot of (pass) sets at right tackle."
— Speaking of offensive line help, general manager Scott Fitterer acknowledged that while he's been busy trading for cornerbacks, he's also asked other teams about potential reinforcements up front.
But he said that at the moment, teams aren't even willing to trade young backups, because the demand for qualified blockers is greater than the supply.
View photos from the Atrium Health practice fields as the Panthers prepare for the Eagles game.