SPARTANBURG, S.C. — The Carolina Panthers want to get more touches and fewer snaps for running back Christian McCaffrey, who a year ago fell just shy of becoming the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
“We want the ball in Christian’s hands,” coach Ron Rivera said on Wednesday. “When he’s on the field, there’s no reason for him to be a decoy or swing guy. Why not figure out the best thing, and that’s what Coach Norv [Turner] wants to do.”
That’s a stark contrast from a year ago, when the Panthers considered McCaffrey a weapon as a decoy. The former Stanford star played 91.3 percent of the snaps, more than any back in the league.
“We don’t want to take away the touches,” Rivera said. “What we want to do is take away the excess plays so he won’t be out there.”
McCaffrey had 326 touches last season, 219 rushes for 1,098 yards and 107 receptions for 867 yards. Turner, in his second season as Carolina’s offensive coordinator, said on Sunday that he was concerned about the number of touches for his second-year back.
McCaffrey said Turner told him he “misspoke,” meaning to say he was concerned about the number of plays.
“He told me he was going to give me the ball more,” McCaffrey said. “That’s music to my ears. I got excited.”
Both Rivera and Turner have said McCaffrey has the talent to join the 1,000-1,000 club that includes only former San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.
Craig, who in 1995 became the first to reach that mark, told ESPN.com earlier this year that he expects McCaffrey to accomplish the feat.
“It’s in his DNA to make that happen,” Craig said. “He’s got the tools. He’s built for it. His day will come.”
Both Craig and Faulk played all 16 games and played a high percentage of snaps. Craig had 306 touches when he set the standard. Faulk had 356 touches when he did it in 1999.
Turner said he’s had several players with more touches than McCaffrey had last season. LaDainian Tomlinson had 398 under Turner in 2001 at San Diego; Emmitt Smith had 414 at Dallas in 1991.
“He’s a dynamic player, one of the most dynamic players in this league,” Turner said of McCaffrey. “He makes it easier for our line, easier for our quarterback and easier for our receivers.”
McCaffrey spent the offseason working out to get bigger, faster and stronger so he could handle a bigger workload.
“He constantly tells me, ‘Coach, if we play a thousand plays I want to play a thousand plays,”’ Rivera said of McCaffrey. “You know him. He does not want to leave the field. For his own well-being as a football player we have to be smart and be judicious when he’s going to be out there.”
McCaffrey’s intense workouts, which include two to three sessions a day in addition to practice, are most noticeable in his biceps, which are larger than they were a year ago.
“Why is this always a topic?” McCaffrey said.
When a reporter answered “because you look bigger,” McCaffrey smiled and said, “Thank you. I just trained pretty hard in the offseason.”
McCaffrey said he weighed in for camp at around 207 pounds, only two more than he did his rookie year.
“I definitely put on some muscle,” he said. “I prepare so I can be in the whole game. I felt great all last year. I felt great all last season, and I feel good right now.”