With a new coaching staff and a large overhaul of the roster this offseason, the Carolina Panthers officially became Christian McCaffrey's team.
If there were any doubts, they were put to rest when he signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension to make him the highest-paid running back in NFL history.
Becoming just the third player ever to rush and receive for 1,000 yards, McCaffrey is just thrilled to be back with his teammates and on the field again.
"It's been amazing, honestly," McCaffrey said. "Waiting that long for football I was getting anxious near the end there but now that it’s here, with a new team, new coaching staff, we’re all in the building together and you have to abide by the rules of COVID and our team has done an amazing job with that. But just being around the guys, getting back to football, it’s been really fun. Long overdue for us.”
McCaffrey played in 93 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps in 2019 and entering his fourth season in the league, he's pretty excited for the team's new-look offense.
"I think it’s going to be a lot of fun," McCaffrey said. "We have so many weapons on offense, from the receiver position to the tight end position to a very talented offensive line and obviously, Teddy (Bridgewater) at quarterback. For us, it’s just about execution. I say it year in and year out, but that’s the truth of it. With talent, it’s half the battle. Now it’s about what we do with the talent and how we execute, how we practice and how we go about communicating. If we get all that done, I think it’s going to be really exciting."
Last year, McCaffrey wasn't phased by playing with three different quarterbacks in Cam Newton, Kyle Allen and Will Grier, but two of those guys are gone and Carolina will have Bridgewater step in as the leading man behind center.
"Teddy's a pro. I think that's the word I would use," McCaffrey said. "Obviously, he's very gifted. You look at what he does every day in practice and paying attention to detail. Where he throws the ball after he makes the throw going through all his progressions, I saw him today before practice in the ice tub going over all his progressions. To have a guy like that, who’s so dialed in is exciting for us. He’s got an amazing attitude and he’s fun to be around. Great leade for us, I think we’re excited he’s a guy that we can all rally behind."
McCaffrey has already seen the potential it can have following their first week of practice together in Charlotte.
"It's a fun offense," McCaffrey said. "It's an offense where we're always moving. With all the weapons that we have, we want to play it fast, want to play physical, want to be efficient. And once again, just execute. Once you have the offense down, it’s about going out there and making sure your steps are right, your eyes are right, making sure we’re communicating and just going out, having fun and playing football."
When it comes to how McCaffrey will be utilized in new offensive coordinator Joe Brady's offense, McCaffrey isn't sure if it'll be as much or less than the last two years but he isn't worried about it.
"Well, we’ll see. I just know I have a lot of trust in our coaches. They’ve had a history of success and they’re going to put our best players in a position to succeed, put the ball in a guys hands that can do something with it," McCaffrey said. "For me, I’m ready to line up anywhere, run any route and I think just continuing to expand my knowledge of the offense and the knowledge of the receiver position and the running back position and the blocking schemes helps a lot, it allows me to feel comfortable wherever they need to put me."
Yet, McCaffrey still sees a lot of similarities to last year's offense and is enjoying studying the new additions.
"There’s definitely adjustments with terminology and some other things. The beauty part of football, especially being a running back, is that it’s similar zone schemes but the details of it, you can always learn little things," McCaffrey said. "That’s the beauty of it. You can never stop learning and there’s always things to pick up on like how certain o-linemen pull, how different linemen zone block, getting with the line staff and learning exactly what they’re telling the guys and the terminology is different, the offense is different, but a lot of similarities, which is fun."
McCaffrey may see the potential in Carolina's new offense, but many experts and fans see 2020 as a year where the Panthers will struggle.
McCaffrey doesn't pay attention to that.
"I think it doesn't matter either way. Whether people have us at number one or number 32," he said. "We're a team and coach (Matt) Rhule is very very proud when he says we're focusing on the details and process. One thing that I love about this team is that you can tell that everybody’s hungry. We have a lot of guys with a lot to prove and more to themselves than anybody else, so for us, it’s not about where anybody has us ranked, it’s what we do when we walk in the building."