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NFL Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey healthy, won’t evaluate QBs

Christian McCaffrey encountered something new upon his arrival at training camp with the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday. No, not another quarterback battle.

“I feel great — the best I’ve ever felt,” he said Tuesday of ongoing durability questions. “Feeling fast, healthy. Ready to rock.”

McCaffrey spent the weekend working out with dueling quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield and said the thing that stood out was “they have massive chips on their shoulders” to prove they are worthy of No. 1 billing.

He described the quarterbacks as “two professionals, great players who have seen a lot in this league. They’re both hungry.”

But McCaffrey said it isn’t his job to “evaluate quarterbacks.”

“It’s not our job to look forward or look to the past, but show up, do your job — do whatever I can to help my team win,” he said.

If you have two starting quarterbacks you have none, the old adage goes, and head coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers are about to give the modernized version a test.

For at least the early portion of training camp and the preseason, the Panthers have two starters — Mayfield and Darnold. A competition that could last the month of August is the way Rhule plans to decide who starts in Carolina.

“To me, my job is not to pick the starting quarterback,” Rhule said Monday. “The players will do that with the way they play. My job is to make sure that we have really good players in the room, which we do, and make sure that they have opportunities. So it’ll be a fun ride and when we know we’ll know.”

Mayfield is the newest addition to the Panthers’ quarterback carousel.

After a 3-0 start to 2021, the Panthers won two of their final 14 games and capped the season with seven straight losses while Darnold, Cam Newton and PJ Walker took turns under center.

Darnold said on Tuesday that he and Mayfield are the starter “in our own eyes.”

“At the end of the day this is a business and we both take our craft and what we do very seriously,” Darnold said. “So it’s going to be serious when that time comes to compete, but off the field and all of that stuff, me and Baker are really cool.”

Mayfield was available because the Cleveland Browns acquired Deshaun Watson from the Houston Texans. He played through injuries in the second half of last season and had 17 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

“This year, I expect to win. I want to win,” Rhule said. “I’ve never had, going into the season saying, ‘Oh I want to win this many games and keep my job.’ I’m not doing that, man. I want to win at the highest level.”

McCaffrey’s health is critical, to the point Rhule has already said he won’t play in preseason games again.

“I’ll be ready to go, excited to be healthy,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey has been riddled with injuries since his All-Pro season of 2019, part of the reason he said his dorm room at training camp looks like one part training room and one part “Four Seasons.”

“It’s probably the boujeeist room on the team,” McCaffrey said.

He didn’t play in the preseason in 2021 and said he’s working to “adapt” but he trusts the plan.

“I would hold him out of all the preseason games again,” Rhule said. “I think he’s had enough hits on his body. But I think, just as we move forward, we’re gonna have a little bit of a different strategy practice-wise with him.”

McCaffrey, 26, played 91 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in 2018. In 2019, he played 93 percent of the Panthers’ offensive snaps and led the NFL with 2,392 yards from scrimmage. Of them, 1,387 were rushing yards, and he ran for 15 touchdowns.

He added 116 catches for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns.

After that season, McCaffrey signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension. And because of a variety of injuries, he’s played in just 10 of 33 games over the last two seasons, totaling 1,159 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.

–Field Level Media

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