Panthers in a jam when it comes to duplicating McCaffrey's skills

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was the first Friday of March Madness and Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had just finished another long training session when he decided to "mess around" in the gym.

McCaffrey's idea of "messing around" goes beyond the ordinary, and his skills go beyond being one of the best all-around backs in the NFL.

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"I wanted to see if I've still got it, dunking-wise," McCaffrey said Tuesday in New York in an interview that came as part of a promotional event. "One dunk turned into two or three and then I just ended up having fun with it."

In other words, McCaffrey still has it. And finding another player to be an adequate substitute for what he brings on the football field could be very difficult for the Panthers.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera recently said he wanted to find a player who can do the things McCaffrey does so his top running back won't have to play 91.3 percent of the offensive snaps, as he did last season.

McCaffrey played on 75 more snaps than any other running back in the league and led all backs with an NFL single-season record 107 catches for 867 yards. Added to his 1,098 rushing yards, he set the Panthers' single-season record for all-purpose yards (1,965).

McCaffrey isn't worried about reducing his load, even though he understands why the coaching staff might want to do that. He says he believes his intense offseason training will help him handle what he did last season and more.

"I played in every game last year, felt great," he said. "I can do it again. I feel I can do it over the next many years. ... I would definitely like the ball as much as possible. ... That's why I train."

None of the other backs on roster -- Cameron Artis-Payne, Elijah Hood and Reggie Bonnafon -- are as fast as McCaffrey and can run routes like McCaffrey.

So if the Panthers want to reduce McCaffrey's load, his sidekick probably would be a mid- to late-round draft pick.

The Instagram dunk personified why McCaffrey was a three-sport star in high school and not singularly focused on football. It also opened him up to ribbing from teammates who couldn't believe a 5-foot-11, 207-pound football player could be so acrobatic on the basketball court.

"Why is everyone surprised? I don't get it," McCaffrey said with a laugh. "It's funny, man. All the old heads on my team who can't jump anymore said, 'Oh, that's a nine-foot hoop, you lowered the rim, blah, blah, blah.' I don't want to hear it.

"I had to show them other ones, too, so they know."

Now everyone knows.