|Determing McCaffrey's backup at running back an open question|
|Scarlett, Holyfield, Artis-Payne are contenders|
|Published Friday, August 16, 2019 11:40 pm|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|Panthers running back Jordan Scarlett ran for 35 yards on eight carries in his professional debut Friday against Buffalo.|
Cameron Artis-Payne is playing for the role of a backup.
No one is going to challenge Christian McCaffrey as the Carolina Panthers starting running back. However, someone can make a case during preseason to become their solidified second among their younger and less experienced options. Reggie Bonnafon was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and spent last season on the practice squad. Rookies Jordan Scarlett and Elijah Holyfield joined the team through the draft (fifth round, 154th overall) and an undrafted free agent respectively.
“To fill Christian’s shoes would most certainly be running back by committee,” coach Ron Rivera said. “That’s the thing we have to work out, and find out exactly who those guys would be. We have some young guys who have some ability, and we’ve got a couple more games to see what they can do. We have a couple veteran guys who have showed that they can come in and do some other things.”
Said Holyfield: “I feel like we’re the best group. We take pride in ourselves every day, coming out and getting everybody started. We feel like the offense runs through us. That’s the way we try to take it. Every rep is a game rep for us.”
Artis-Payne, who signed a one-year contract with the team in March, has 491 rushing yards and five touchdowns over four seasons.
McCaffrey is an elite back with his record-breaking versatility, so Carolina is set, unless he gets hurt. He is the third player in NFL history with at least 1,500 rushing yards and receiving yards in his first two seasons.
Rivera emphasized that the first two preseason games—a 23-13 win in Chicago and a 27-14 loss at home to Buffalo—are about giving youngsters a chance to make a case for themselves.
“We had a lot of young guys who need to turn the corner,” he said.
Said Bonnafon: “Christian obviously hasn’t played as of yet during preseason, but he’s doing a great job of being out there, and coaching us up, and giving us feedback on what he sees. We’re just trying to continually get better each and every opportunity we get.”
Avoiding what Rivera described as “overexposure” of key players like McCaffrey, quarterback Cam Newton, tight end Greg Olsen or linebacker Luke Kuechly to preseason injury allows the coaches to assess backups. McCaffrey and other starters will play against New England in week three—Aug. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
“This is the third game,” Rivera said. “This is probably the most important preseason game we play every year.”
Carolina did not produce a rushing touchdown against Buffalo. Scarlett led the team with eight carries for 35 yards in his first professional appearance.
“I haven’t played in a couple months,” he said. “On top of this being in the NFL now, playing my first NFL game, it felt great just being out there.”
Against Chicago, Holyfield led the team with eight carries for 26 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s been real cool so far,” said Holyfield, who had three carries for 17 yards against the Bills. “I had my first two NFL games. It slowed down a little bit today. I got more used to it, and just got back to ball.”
Carolina concludes preseason at home on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m. They open the regular season at home on Sept. 8 at 1 p.m. against the Rams.
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