In May, not long after Christian McCaffrey signed the richest contract extension for a running back in NFL history (four years, $64 million) with the Carolina Panthers, told USA TODAY Sports, "You want to hire someone who speaks three languages great rather than one language good. I felt like I could do that on the football field."
That is the 24-year-old's do-it-all mentality. It's how he approached this offseason unlike any other, with McCaffrey spending an extended period of time in his native Colorado while watching the only coach and quarterback he's ever known depart.
As part of BODYARMOR's new class of partner athletes, McCaffrey spoke to USA TODAY Sports before training camp opened about a range of topics, including: Cam Newton's prospects with the New England Patriots, the early stages of his relationship with head coach Matt Rhule and more:
(Questions and answers have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity)
USA TODAY Sports: How were you able to train and stay in shape amid quarantine protocols this offseason?
Christian McCaffrey: "For me, it was actually amazing. I got to stay in one place for a really long time, which is something that I haven’t been able to do in a while. Being in Colorado with my family, training every day, was actually a blessing. Tried to make the most of this unfortunate situation with COVID, but I would train in the mornings, lift in the afternoons and all the throwing days, my little brothers would throw to me."
USAT Sports: What have your conversations with Cam Newton been like since his release and signing with New England?
CM: "I'm excited for him. When you look at what he’s been able to do over the last few years, and me being able to play with him for three, it was an honor to play with him. Im really excited for him. Going down the list of guys on new teams now, that’s the NFL. It’s a revolving door of a league. A lot of times your buddies on the team end up getting traded or getting cut or going to other teams, so that’s just the way the league works."
USAT Sports:If Cam is healthy enough, can he return to that elite level he’s played at?
CM: "Yeah, absolutely. I think he’s a hell of a competitor and he does everything possible to compete to get to where he feels the best. So like I said before, I’m excited for him."
USAT Sports:Have you met Matt Rhule in person yet?
CM: "I met him once in person. I talk to him a good amount over the phone, but just once in person."
USAT Sports:What was your first meeting like and what have you learned from those phone conversations?
CM: "I’m extremely excited to work with him. You look at what he’s done in the past, taking teams that have been sort of unsuccessful and making them into, 10-win-plus teams. That’s exciting in it of itself. Also his character and the way he operates is something that is exciting for me, and I know the rest of the guys are excited too. The standard that he has, the attention to detail that he has, is something that you want in a head coach, so I’m really excited."
USAT Sports:What about “the standard”? Is it accountability, goals? How is it different from what you’ve seen before in the NFL?
CM: "Well, I think, for him, it’s a combination of everything. To be the best, you have to be the best all the time. I think he takes that personally, in wanting to win all the time. You can see it trickle down into the coaching staff as well. I think that says a lot. The way your position coaches work is a direct reflection of the head coach. Spending a lot of time with (Panthers special offensive assistant/running backs coach Jeff) Mixon, I understand how hard he works and how much attention to detail he has as well. That’s a reflection of coach Rhule. I think that’s pretty consistent around the whole team. Obviously, not being able to be in person, you can just tell that every time you log in, you got to lock in. That was exciting for me."
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. (Photo: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
USAT Sports:How did you go about starting to build your relationship with Teddy Bridgewater?
CM: "Just talking to him. Not only in meetings, but also other spots. (I saw) what he did in New Orleans last year. I think he could have started on any team in the league last years. So the fact that he’s our quarterback now and I get to share the backfield with him is exciting. Once again, talking to him, throwing with him a little bit, you can tell that he’s dialed in. seeing that in his eyes is something that you want to see in your quarterback."
USAT Sports:How is no preseason going to impact teams and do you feel like the Panthers might feel the effects of that more, having a first-year head coach?
CM: "We’ll see. I don’t think so. I think if you practice correctly you can get everything done in practice and continue to evaluate guys despite not having the games. That’s when guys make teams, is preseason games. I feel for some of the younger guys, the undrafted guys, who don’t get to play in those games. But with COVID, it makes sense and that’s the way we got to go. Everybody’s got to adapt."
Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.
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