Panthers turn to 2nd year back McCaffrey to lead run game

Carolina Panthers' Christian McCaffrey (22) runs a drill during the NFL football team's practice in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Christian McCaffrey will have an even bigger role in the Panthers‘ offense this season.

McCaffrey, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2017, carried the ball 117 times for 435 yards and established a franchise rookie record with 80 receptions. He finished the season with seven touchdowns.

While McCaffrey led the Panthers in receptions, he’ll be counted on to carry the ball more after the team parted ways with its all-time leading rusher Jonathan Stewart. Panthers two-time NFL Coach of the Year Ron Rivera believes McCaffrey is up to the task, saying he can be a running back who carries the ball 200 times this season.

McCaffrey’s durability has been questioned at times because his body build is more akin to a scat back than a power back.

He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry in 2017.

”Yeah, why not?” Rivera said of the prospect of a 200-carry season. ”Everybody forgets that when he was (at Stanford) he carried the ball between the tackles more than anybody and touched the ball more than anybody. I don’t see why not.”

McCaffrey is all for it.

”Obviously anybody on the team wants the ball as much as possible,” McCaffrey said. ”That is football. You should want to compete. But we are here to win football games, so whatever that means and whatever that takes we’re going to do.”

McCaffrey, the son of three-time Super Bowl champion wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, likes what he’s seen so far from new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who has taken over for Mike Shula.

He feels ”a lot more comfortable” in his second year with the Panthers, even though he’s learning a new offensive scheme. But he wouldn’t discuss what will be different about his workload this year or in what different ways he will be used under Turner for competitive reasons.

”However they want to use me, that is where I will be,” McCaffrey said. ”I think we have a lot of great talent and a lot of different weapons.”

He won’t be carrying the entire load in the backfield, of course.

The Panthers added depth at running back signing 2017 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson, who played in Denver and helped the Broncos beat Carolina in the Super Bowl in 2015. Carolina is also expecting some added help from Cameron Artis-Payne and Kenjon Barner.

And don’t forget, it was quarterback Cam Newton who led the team with 754 yards rushing and six touchdowns last season.

The 21-year-old McCaffrey enters the season with a new perspective after a ”traumatic experience” earlier this summer.

McCaffrey, his brothers and some friends were in Colorado when they saw an elderly man fall off a cliff while hiking with his 13-year-old grandson. McCaffrey called 911 and one of his friends administered chest compressions.

McCaffrey said paramedics arrived at the scene in about 11 minutes. The 72-year-old Dan Smoker Sr. survived the fall and McCaffrey has developed a friendship with him and his family. He even plans to invite the Smokers to a Panthers home game this season.

”When you see something like that, you have a better appreciation for life and take every moment in,” McCaffrey said. ”We had a decompression moment after that. You look at life and realize it can be gone in any split second.”

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