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Christian McCaffrey accelerating pace of becoming face of Panthers – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Christian McCaffrey’s life in sports has been all about speed, but the Carolina Panthers running back had never experienced it the way he did on Sunday, when he served as an honorary pace car driver, leading 38 cars with 750 horsepower each to the green flag for the start of the Coca-Cola 600.

Austin Dillon, the driver of the iconic No. 3 car, wouldn’t have been surprised had his good buddy tried to race the field in the pace car.

“He’s aggressive and tenacious, man,” Dillon said with a laugh. “He doesn’t give an inch. He wants to win at everything.”

That was evident as McCaffrey anticipated the event.

“I came in with super-high expectations about the speed, but they told me I’m 46 miles an hour on the cruise control. When I heard that, my nerves calmed down a little bit, so I think I can do that.”

Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and linebacker/safety Jeremy Chinn — as well as recording artist and Trackhouse Racing Team partner Pitbull, heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury and longtime talk show host Jay Leno and his music director, Kevin Eubanks — were among the celebrities who joined McCaffrey at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Driving the pace car is one of many ways McCaffrey finally has taken center stage as the face of the franchise. That never quite developed last year after the Panthers moved on from quarterback Cam Newton.

Because of the pandemic and injuries that sidelined him for 13 games, McCaffrey was somewhat invisible locally and nationally.

But last month, he played golf in the pro-am at the Wells Fargo Championship, drawing arguably the biggest crowd outside of Phil Mickelson. McCaffrey also launched a “22 and Troops” program to help active U.S. military personnel, veterans and front-line workers and their families focus on the overcoming trauma and PTSD.

On July 2, McCaffrey will play the piano on stage in a benefit concert with country music star Zach Bryan. It’ll be the largest crowd McCaffrey has played the piano in front of, by far.

Dillon, a die-hard Panthers fan when he isn’t behind the wheel of the car once driven by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, is glad to see McCaffrey finally take the spotlight off the field as he does on it.

“Everything he does, everything he touches, he wants it to be the best,” Dillon said. “I feel like I’m one of the most competitive people I know. But he is the most competitive person I’ve met in my life. It’s inspiring.”

‘I feel really good’

McCaffrey had never missed a game for an injury at any level before last season, when a high-ankle sprain, an AC joint injury and a quad injury forced him to miss all but three of 16 games.

So to see him running and cutting full speed at offseason workouts is a good sign.

“I feel good,” McCaffrey said. “I feel really good. I’m back to 100 percent and feel healthy and ready to roll.”

McCaffrey wouldn’t have been driving a pace car or hitting golf balls were he not 100 percent. It’s not in his DNA to put anything above being ready for the football season.

McCaffrey doesn’t really like talking about last season because he was a nonfactor. He couldn’t do, as new Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold said, “some freaky things” that in 2019 helped the former Stanford star become the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.

McCaffrey also couldn’t enjoy his new role as the team ambassador, a role Newton held from 2011 to 2019.

That in itself is a quandary for McCaffrey. As much as he wants to be the best back in NFL history, he doesn’t want the focus on him because it’s a team sport.

“It’s the most team game that gets the most individual attention,” McCaffrey said. “I enjoy doing stuff in the community because it’s fun. It’s our obligation to give back to the community. A lot of my teammates do the same stuff.”

His teammates, however, don’t draw attention the way McCaffrey does, because of his rare physical ability that makes him arguably the best dual-threat back in the NFL.

Dillon is convinced McCaffrey could be successful as a driver in NASCAR.

“He would probably need some practice,” Dillon said. “But I don’t think it would take long for him to get good.”

22 and 3

So how did McCaffrey and Dillon become good friends? It started when Dillon direct-messaged McCaffrey on social media before the 2017 draft.

“I was, ‘Hey, man, if you end up coming to Carolina, let me know and we can get together and we can hang out,’” Dillon said.

It took a while for the relationship to develop because of a conflict in schedules; Dillon lives about an hour from Charlotte, and McCaffrey was “super focused on just getting started.”

The relationship took off in 2018, after Dillon convinced McCaffrey and several teammates to be his guest at the NASCAR All-Star Race in Charlotte. Now they get together for meals, to play basketball and just hang out at Dillon’s home near Lexington or McCaffrey’s on Lake Norman.

There was even a time when they shared the same hair stylist.

“He’s just a normal guy who wants to have a good time and works hard at what he does and wants to learn and grow as a person,” Dillon said.

Maybe one day McCaffrey and Dillon will share single-digit numbers. McCaffrey ruled out switching from No. 22 to 5 — his college and high school number — this year because it would be “a good check.”

It would have cost him more than $1 million to purchase all the unsold No. 22 inventory necessary under NFL rules, according to a source.

But the change is on the table for 2022, when it would be free.

“I like him in the deuce-two too,” Dillon said. “I feel like the 22 is a stud running back number. And all of his rookie cards have 22 on it.”

The Intimidator

McCaffrey was wearing a black No. 3 cap on a Zoom call last season, so it was natural to be asked if that was an Earnhardt or Dillon hat. He quickly said Dillon.

“That made me pretty happy,” said Dillon, who has a McCaffrey jersey and several of the running back’s sports cards as part of his Carolina paraphernalia.

Dillon was hoping to win the pole for the 600 so he could make an Earnhardt “Intimidator”-like move and bump McCaffrey in the pace car from the front row. So, when Dillon qualified sixth, McCaffrey was asked if he was glad.

“Yeah, he definitely would mess with me,” McCaffrey said. “I’m sure there are a lot of guys who’d mess with me too. We’ll see.”

Sure enough, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who qualified second, did just that by giving the Panthers star a little nudge in the rear bumper.

McCaffrey came to the track early Sunday to get a few pace car practice laps in, but Dillon was unable to ride along due to contractual circumstances. (Dillon drives for Chevy; the pace car was a Toyota.)

But the two have been in a car together before.

“We’re not going to get into specifics,” Dillon said with a chuckle. “He had a new car, and he wanted me to drive it. I drove it pretty fast, just for a quick second. He loves speed, in all forms of it. He’s fascinated by that.

“I’d like to get him in a race car one day and let him gas it up just to feel the horsepower and unleash it, kind of like he does on the field.”

On the field is where McCaffrey is focused. He intimidates defenses — the way Earnhardt did drivers — with his 4.49-second 40 speed and jukes that leaves defenders grasping for air.

The Panthers need that to end a string of three straight losing seasons.

McCaffrey has been on the losing end in 11 straight games dating back to 2019, and he especially wants to do all he can to change that.

So far, he likes what Darnold brings to the offense and all the weapons around him. As a fan, Dillon can’t wait to see his buddy back doing what he does best.

And no, Dillon has no desire to do what McCaffrey does on Sundays.

“Shoot, no. Man, they’re crazy,” Dillon said.

This coming from somebody those outside of racing call wild for driving at such high speeds.

“I’ve got a helmet and a roll cage around me,” Dillon said. “He’s got no roll cage.”

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Bruce Arians to Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians hasn’t felt the need to bring in a specialist to talk to his players about the COVID-19 vaccine, which some players leaguewide have expressed skepticism about in recent days.

While Washington Football Team coach Ron Rivera brought Harvard immunologist Kizzmekia S. Corbett in to speak to his players Tuesday night, Arians said Thursday, “I’m the specialist.”

He told players, “If you want to go back to normal, get vaccinated.”

Arians said the Bucs are holding a vaccine drive for players and their families at the facility.

“There’s going to be a long line over there right now,” Arians said. “We were pretty short up until now. Hopefully we have a pretty good line.”

Previous vaccine drives have also taken place at the facility for coaches and support staff members. The goal is to have 85% of the team vaccinated, which Arians feels they’ll be much closer to after the drive.

“Everybody’s tired of meeting out here and eating outside, and doing all those things we had to do last year,” Arians said. “It’s still a personal choice, but I don’t see a reason not to be vaccinated.”

When asked if any players expressed concern or skepticism, as Washington’s Montez Sweat did Wednesday, Arians said, “I haven’t spoken to anybody that’s resisted it. They’re just too lazy to get one.”

Outside linebacker Shaq Barrett said he and his wife, Jordanna, both received the vaccine. Their four children aren’t old enough to qualify for the vaccine at this time, as the CDC currently recommends children ages 12 and older receive vaccines.

Barrett missed the season finale against the Atlanta Falcons because he was a close contact of a teammate who tested positive, despite never testing positive himself. Still, he was forced to quarantine for five days. His children were home-schooled in 2020 and did not have play dates with other children because of concerns about the virus.

“It’s ‘to each their own.’ I recommend it,” Barrett said Thursday. “I don’t know why people wouldn’t get it. But whatever makes you comfortable, whatever helps you sleep at night, you do that. But I would like for 85% of the team to be vaccinated.”

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Kansas City Chiefs hope Kyle Long back by start of regular season after leg injury in practice

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs are hopeful guard Kyle Long can return for the start of the regular season after he injured his leg Wednesday, sources told ESPN.

Long was signed by the Chiefs in the offseason after he ended his retirement after one year. He wrote about the injury on Thursday on his Twitter account.

“I did everything I could to get back for football,” Long said. “Zero regrets. … Focusing on controlling the things I can control. Yesterday was not one of those things!”

Long, 32, was working as the starting right guard at offseason practice. Other candidates to start include Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and rookie Trey Smith.

Drafted 20th overall by the Chicago Bears in 2013, Long missed just one game over his first three seasons, in which he was selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls, but appeared in just 30 regular-season contests over his last four years with the team because of a variety of injuries. He announced his retirement in January of last year.

NFL Network first reported that Long had suffered a leg injury.



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Fantasy Football cheat sheets – Updated 2021 player rankings, PPR, non-PPR, depth charts, dynasty

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If you’re seeking a one-stop shop for updated 2021 fantasy football rankings and cheat sheets throughout the summer, you’ve come to the right place. Below, you will find them for PPR and non-PPR formats, as well as dynasty leagues.

PPR positional cheat sheet

One sheet with players broken down by position, including overall rank, salary-cap value and bye weeks for leagues that award one point for each catch. Download »

PPR top-300 cheat sheet

This sheet features 300 players in order of overall draft value, with positional rank, salary-cap value and bye-week information for leagues that reward each catch with a point. Download »

Non-PPR positional cheat sheet

For leagues using the scoring format that doesn’t award an extra point for each reception. One sheet with players broken down by position, including overall rank, salary-cap value and bye weeks. Download »

Non-PPR top-300 cheat sheet

This sheet features 300 players in order of overall draft value, with positional rank, salary-cap value and bye-week information. Download »

Mike Clay’s team-by-team projection guide

If you want the full breakdown for all 32 teams, you’ve come to the right place. Download »

NFL team depth chart cheat sheet

Fantasy depth charts for each NFL team: top two QBs, three running backs, four wide receivers, two tight ends and a kicker. Prioritized by fantasy value in PPR leagues rather than role defined on a traditional NFL depth chart, includes players’ positional ranks. Download »

Dynasty cheat sheet

Features the top 240 players and 60 best rookies to make all of your keeper and dynasty league decisions. Includes the age of players at the start of the 2021 season. Download »

*All cheat sheets are in PDF format. Your device must be equipped with a PDF reader for you to access and print the cheat sheet.

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