For the first week of Carolina Panthers’ training camp, a parade of players from both sides of the ball came into the interview room at Wofford College and spoke of the Legend of Christian McCaffrey, whose next NFL preseason game will be his first one.
Luke Kuechly gushed over McCaffrey’s shake.
Jonathan Stewart said he doesn’t think there’s a defender who can cover McCaffrey one-on-one.
Through all the praises and verbal bouquets, the one guy at camp who hadn’t talked about McCaffrey was McCaffrey himself.
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But the former Stanford star and No. 8 overall pick in April’s draft finally addressed the media Tuesday. Here’s what we learned:
McCaffrey has been mooching off his parents’ HBO account. He developed his elusiveness in backyard games with his brothers in Colorado. And he shares a lot of the same traits as Kuechly, who didn’t have cable when he entered the NFL as a top-10 pick in 2012.
While most players headed back to Charlotte during Monday’s off day, McCaffrey stuck around in Spartanburg, watching film (a favorite Kuechly pastime) and getting treatment to stay fresh during his inaugural camp.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera kept bumping into McCaffrey on campus Monday.
“When I got back downstairs, there he was. He was watching tape on his own,” Rivera said. “Then I cut across the locker room again, there he was in the training room getting a little extra treatment.
“You see the young man really knows how to be a pro already. He’s just going to get progressively better at it.”
McCaffrey didn’t have to look far to figure out how to be a pro.
His father, Ed, won three Super Bowl rings during a 13-year career as a receiver for the Giants, 49ers and Broncos. His brother, Max, is at Green Bay’s training camp as a receiver.
Their advice: Have fun and be yourself.
That’s what McCaffrey has done from the first day of camp, when he was called to the front of a meeting and asked to perform for his teammates. McCaffrey played the piano and sang the Bill Withers tune, “Lean on Me.”
“I got solid reviews,” McCaffrey said. “I got the claps. I didn’t get booed, which was good.”
It’s been nothing but rave reviews for McCaffrey on the field, mostly for his ability to make people miss – albeit in drills in which defenders aren’t allowed to tackle.
Tight end Greg Olsen says he’s looking forward to watching opponents “try to tackle him for real,” which will happen next week when J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the Houston Texans defenders take aim at No. 22 in an exhibition at Bank of America Stadium.
The way the Panthers run their camp drills, plays are blown dead when a defensive player tags or makes contact with the ball-carrier.
But according to Olsen, sometimes the Panthers defenders haven’t really gotten a clean tag on the juking, double-moving McCaffrey.
“I think it’s going to be something to see now when this goes live,” Olsen said. “Some of those balls he has in the open field, I’m anxious to see it.”
McCaffrey, who set an NCAA record with 3,864 all-purpose yards as a sophomore in 2015, traces his quickness and stutter steps to the games he and his brothers would wage outside the family’s home in suburban Denver.
McCaffrey said he would pretend to be Barry Sanders or Reggie Bush, two smallish backs like McCaffrey who were known for their quick, stop-and-start moves.
“We had a little grass patch. So there wasn’t a whole lot of space to work with. So you had to find different ways to make my older brother miss,” said McCaffrey, adding that his basketball background also helped with his explosiveness.
“A lot of that quickness and setting people up, and being able to jab one way and go the other way, explode off that first step, that’s kind of where I did a lot of that stuff, too,” he said.
McCaffrey has been texting and FaceTiming with his brother and playing Connect Four during his down time.
One thing he hasn’t done is watch “Game of Thrones,” since he forgot the password for his parents’ HBO GO account.
When it was mentioned that McCaffrey was now in position to pay for his own premium channel account, he smiled and said: “Not yet, but thank you for bringing that up.”
McCaffrey’s speed and fakes have been easy to spot for anyone who’s come to Wofford – even those fans sitting on the hill a field away from where the Panthers have set up most days.
Just as impressive, according to Olsen, is what he’s noticed from McCaffrey when he gets back in the huddle.
“He has a good look in his eye when he’s in the huddle, that none of this is too big for him,” Olsen said. “He belongs here. I don’t think that should come as a shock to anybody.”