Carolina Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey ran through a couple of play-action fakes with Cam Newton during warmup drills before Thursdays’ final minicamp practice.
That was the extent of the on-field interactions this spring between Newton and the player the Panthers drafted eighth overall to take some of the pressure off their franchise quarterback.
Because of an antiquated rule that prohibits rookies from schools on the quarter system from participating with their teams until after finals are done, Thursday was the first time McCaffrey had been on the Panthers’ practice field since rookie minicamp in early May.
It’s not like he missed out on a lot of reps alongside Newton, who has yet to throw a pass as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery in March.
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Backup quarterback Derek Anderson said this week the defense was a little ahead of the offense. But the way Panthers coach Ron Rivera sees it, that doesn’t mean the offense is necessarily behind.
Most importantly, Rivera says Newton’s recovery remains right on schedule.
“At this point he’s right where he needs to be,” Rivera said.
Rivera predicted last week Newton would throw during the final week of minicamp, offering the caveat that the timeline ultimately would be determined by the doctors and trainers.
After reminding reporters that he generally takes an optimistic view when it comes to injury rehabs, Rivera said he expects Newton to begin throwing soon, perhaps as early as next week.
If that’s the case, McCaffrey could be on the receiving end of those passes.
Rookies are allowed to work out and train at team facilities next week, but have to do so on their own without any interaction with coaches.
After missing 12 of the 13 OTA and minicamp practices while exiled to Denver, McCaffrey is expected to hang around Charlotte another week to make up for lost time.
McCaffrey’s situation is not unlike what Newton experienced as a rookie in 2011, when the lockout meant there were no OTAs or minicamps. All Newton did was show up to Spartanburg in late July and proceed to throw for more yards than any rookie in NFL history.
So Newton and other veterans advised McCaffrey on what to do with his down time.
“They all said the same thing,” McCaffrey said. “‘Get in your playbook, but once you get out here, come out here and have fun.’ You miss some time, but that part’s over now. So I’m just focused on what I can do now.”
McCaffrey said Newton gave him a more general directive: “He just told me to show up and ball out.”
McCaffrey packed a lot into his lone minicamp practice.
He lined up all over the field and (shhhh!!) took a direct snap from center in the Wildcat formation at one point.
“I figure the more ways you can be dynamic the better – for the coaches, for me and for the team,” McCaffrey said. “Whatever they ask me to do I’ll do.”
During team drills near the end of practice, McCaffrey took a handoff, found a seam on the right side and broke through for a long gain (against a defense that wasn’t tackling).
Tight end Greg Olsen turned to reporters and said: “Lot of tweets going on right now, (saying), ‘Great run.’”
While McCaffrey was zipping around, Newton was calling the plays for the offense – an idea Rivera admitted he wished coaches would’ve come up with earlier.
Newton, who is coming off his worst season, usually takes his receivers to Baltimore for a few days during the summer to train at the Under Armour facilities. McCaffrey hadn’t heard whether he’d be a part of that group.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I’ve been here about three hours now. So we’ll find out about all that stuff.”
It would be a good idea for Newton to include McCaffrey. The Panthers – Newton and McCaffrey in particular – will have to pull a lot of cram sessions if this evolution of the offense is going to take.
Olsen doesn’t seem too concerned where the Panthers QB is concerned.
“Cam Newton, he’ll be ready. We have a lot of other things to worry about to get our team ready than him,” Olsen said this week. “He’s done this before.
“He knows what he’s doing. We’ve got a lot of other things we need to piece together. He’ll be fine. He’s a big boy.”
With a new toy.