Cre­at­ing a buzz

McCaf­frey’s shifti­ness turn­ing heads at Pan­thers camp

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY STEVE REED

Christian McCaf­frey re­mem­bers run­ning around his back­yard as a young boy play­ing tackle foot­ball, dodg­ing his broth­ers while pre­tend­ing to be Barry San­ders.

All of those moves have paid off for the Pan­thers rookie run­ning back.

McCaf­frey cre­ated quite a buzz dur­ing his first week of train­ing camp with veteran play­ers and coaches rav­ing about his ath­leti­cism and abil­ity to make peo­ple miss. There hasn’t been this much an­tic­i­pa­tion from fans over a Pan­thers rookie since 2011 when quar­ter­back Cam New­ton was drafted No. 1 over­all.

Pan­thers veteran run­ning back Jonathan Ste­wart, who rarely heaps praise on any­one — said McCaf­frey is “pretty un­stop­pable” as a re­ceiver com­ing out of the back­field.

“I can tell you now there’s not go­ing to be any­body in this league that can cover him oneon-one,” Ste­wart said. “He’s a special player.”

But McCaf­frey, who is no stranger to this set­ting — his fa­ther Ed played 12 sea­sons in the NFL mostly with the Den­ver Bron­cos and won three Su­per Bowls — seems at home on the foot­ball field and is tak­ing the at­ten­tion in stride.

“Any­time I’m on the foot­ball field, that’s my com­fort zone,” McCaf­frey said Tues­day. “That’s my safe place.”

He’s looked plenty com­fort­able de­spite miss­ing al­most all of OTAs and mini­camp due to an NFL Col­lec­tive Bar­gain­ing Agree­ment rule pre­vent­ing col­lege play­ers from par­tic­i­pat­ing in those prac­tices un­til their school has com­pleted its fi­nal ex­ams. Stan­ford fin­ished later than most schools.

You’d never know he’s try­ing to make up for lost time.

McCaf­frey al­ready has shown a good grasp of the play­book and dis­played what Ste­wart called a “deadly” first step.

Pan­thers three-time All-Pro line­backer Luke Kuechly found out the hard way last week in prac­tice.

While run­ning a route over the mid­dle McCaf­frey put one foot in the ground, then shifted in the other di­rec­tion in one fluid mo­tion, cre­at­ing im­me­di­ate sep­a­ra­tion to break free for a re­cep­tion. Kuechly fell for the move, stum­bled briefly and then fran­ti­cally raced to try to close the gap.

Cor­ner­back James Brad­berry said he let out an “ooh ahh” when he watched it on tape.

“He got me,” Kuechly ac­knowl­edged with a wide smile. He’s got­ten oth­ers, too. Pan­thers coach Ron Rivera said McCaf­frey’s first move is to set up a de­fender and then “where he goes from there, it’s up to him.”

It’s a move that McCaf­frey said came nat­u­rally to him while play­ing with his three broth­ers in a small back­yard grow­ing up in the Den­ver area. There was only a lit­tle patch of grass there, mak­ing things more dif­fi­cult to get around his sib­lings be­fore be­ing tack­led.

“I had to find dif­fer­ent ways to make my older brother miss,” McCaf­frey said.

Team­mates say McCaf­frey doesn’t act like a rookie.

Ste­wart said McCaf­frey pre­pares like an NFL veteran, and that in­cludes a long stretch­ing rou­tine as well as a strict eat­ing and work­out reg­i­men. He said the rookie’s fo­cus never seems to wa­ver.

“His ap­proach to the game, the men­tal part of the craft is a 10,” Ste­wart said.

ap pHoto

In this July 28 photo, Carolina Pan­thers’ Christian McCaf­frey runs with the ball dur­ing prac­tice at the NFL team’s train­ing camp at Wof­ford Col­lege in Spar­tan­burg, S.C.

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