CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The past two months have been anything but a vacation for Carolina Panthers first-round draft pick Christian McCaffrey because of an NFL rule that prohibits him from joining the team until Stanford’s school year ends.
The former Stanford running back has spent three hours every morning training and undergoing treatment from his hometown of Denver, and the rest of his day watching film and talking on the phone with running backs coach Jim Skipper.
He insists he hasn’t done anything fun, outside of going to a Rockies baseball game, while his teammates have been in voluntary offseason workouts.
“I figure the guys on my team aren’t doing anything fun, so I’m trying to walk in and stay on their schedule,” McCaffrey told ESPN.com. “I’m trying to put myself as much in a situation as they’re in as possible.”
McCaffrey arrived in Charlotte on Sunday to get acclimated to his new home. He’ll begin working out with the team on Wednesday, the second day of a mandatory three-day minicamp.
“I won’t be behind as far as the plays go in practice,” McCaffrey said. “Getting acclimated and comfortable with the team, I’ll be a little bit behind. But that will come.”
McCaffrey would like to see a change in the rule Carolina coach Ron Rivera said unnecessarily punishes players like McCaffrey. Tight end Greg Olsen said the rule is backward.
McCaffrey repeatedly said it’s been a “bummer” having to stay away since a rookie minicamp in early May, especially because he wasn’t enrolled in classes at Stanford this quarter.
“I understand the concept of the rule,” said McCaffrey, referring to the language in the collective bargaining agreement designed to allow college players to finish the school year and work toward a degree without the pressure of football.
“But at the same time, for a guy like me that is just trying to get out there and get acclimated to the team and compete, it’s tough.”
Outside of quarterback Cam Newton possibly throwing for the first time since March 30 shoulder surgery and an appearance from tackle Michael Oher, who hasn’t participated in the voluntary workouts and remains in the concussion protocol, McCaffrey’s arrival will be the biggest news of this minicamp.
McCaffrey, who lives and breathes football the same way that Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly does, can’t wait.
“It’s tough being away from a competitive atmosphere for that long, but I still push myself every day in my training and studies,” McCaffrey said.
What McCaffrey has missed the most is the opportunity to bond with his new teammates. That’s something he can’t really do on the phone or in text messages.
“It’s definitely a major factor,” McCaffrey said. “Everyone wants to be close to your team. You don’t want to have guys that don’t feel comfortable in the locker room.
“But they’ve been so welcoming to me. The times I have been there, the vets have been so great to me, reaching out to me, texting me, giving me advice. So I know I’m not there, but I definitely feel very comfortable.”
McCaffrey also is comfortable with sharing the backfield with veteran Jonathan Stewart, 30, who said last week he wasn’t worried about losing carries to the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up.
“He said it best; we’re trying to win a Super Bowl,” said McCaffrey, referring to the quote from Stewart. “I don’t care if I get no carries and just play special teams. I’m there to try to win football games and help that team win.
“Every great team has multiple backs. Very few times do you have just one back. To be able to share the backfield with him and the other guys is going to be a lot of fun.”
McCaffrey will be fun to watch. He’ll help the Panthers as a runner, receiver out of the backfield, slot receiver and kick returner. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays even when on the field at the same time as Stewart.
Countless hours of film study have only whetted his appetite to get started.
“It’s an unbelievable football team across the board,” McCaffrey said. “It’s exciting for me, because coming in as a rookie, just being able to pick these guys’ brains and learn from them, compete with them every day, is going to be a lot of fun.”
McCaffrey’s father, former NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey, has done all he can to help his son prepare for this moment.
So has Carolina linebacker Shaq Thompson, who went through what Christian McCaffrey has with the rule when the Panthers selected him out of Washington in the first round two years ago.
“He just told me to enjoy the time at home and I’ll be fine when I get back,” McCaffrey said. “It does suck [not being there], but at the same time I’ve enjoyed being at my home with my family for the last time in a while.”