Christian McCaffrey back at practice, could make early return from injury vs. Eagles

After trading for All-Pro cornerback Stephen Gilmore on Wednesday, the Carolina Panthers got more good news.

Christian McCaffrey returned to the practice field. The All-Pro running back participated in a limited capacity for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury in a Week 2 win over the Houston Texans.

Expected to miss multiple weeks, there's a chance he could suit up against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Head coach Matt Rhule told reporters that McCaffrey could end up being a game-time decision.

“Christian looked real good," Rhule said, per ESPN's David Newton. "I don’t know what that means in terms of Sunday.’’

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 12: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after a touchdown against the New York Jets during the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium on September 12, 2021 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Christian McCaffrey appears to be ahead of schedule from a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Per the Panthers website, how McCaffrey feels on Thursday after recovering from Wednesday's activity will be the most telling indicator of his status for this week.

Whether or not he plays on Sunday, McCaffrey's ability to practice puts him ahead of a typical recovery schedule with a hamstring injury. If he does play against the Eagles, his absence would be limited to last week's loss to the Dallas Cowboys and the second half of the Texans game.

The Panthers obviously don't want to rush him back from a the soft-tissue injury that's susceptible to reinjury. Carolina doesn't want a repeat scenario of last season that saw McCaffrey miss 14 games with various injuries.

McCaffrey led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 170 yards on the ground and 154 receiving yards through two weeks. The last time he played a full schedule in 2019, he led the NFL with 2,392 yards from scrimmage and earned All-Pro honors. He's key to the Panthers' hopes of extending their 3-1 start into a playoff berth.