Panthers rookie Christian McCaffrey a ‘tough matchup’ for Bears

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Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (22) leaps over 49ers cornerback K’waun Williams in the Panthers 23-3 victory in Week 1. (AP)

The Bears scouted Stanford running back/receiver/kick returner extraordinaire Christian McCaffrey “extensively” in the draft before finding a more cost-efficient option in Tarik Cohen in the fourth round.

McCaffrey, taken eighth overall by the Panthers, already is developing into a match-up problem as a rookie. Though he’s struggling in the running game — 104 yards on 38 carries for just 2.7 yards per carry — the son of former Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey has 37 receptions for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He’s tied for sixth in the NFL in receptions and has scored in each of the Panthers’ last two games.

“He’s a good running back that’s got receiver-type abilities,” Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “He can run tough routes out of the backfield. He can also run receiver-type routes when he’s outside of the backfield. He’s a tough match-up.”

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And as Panthers coach Ron Rivera noted, McCaffrey “can be a pretty doggone good decoy.” Against the Patriots, McCaffrey went in motion and drew three defenders to the right side of the field. Cam Newton threw a swing pass to Fozzy Whittaker on the left side, and Whitaker went 28 yards for a touchdown.

Don’t count on Kuechly

Three-time All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, one of the best in the business, participated in individual drills but missed his third straight practice Thursday because of a concussion he suffered in the Panthers’ game against the Eagles last week. David Mayo would start if Kuechly can’t play.

The Panthers also could be without their leading wide receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, who missed his second straight day of practice with a knee injury. He has 26 receptions for 371 yards (14.3 average) and one touchdown.

McManis still out

Bears special-teams ace Sherrick McManis (hamstring), back-up linebacker John Timu (ankle/knee) and wide receiver Markus Wheaton (groin) did not practice. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (chest), running back Benny Cunningham (hamstring) and center Hroniss Grasu (hand) were limited.

Rookie wide receiver Tanner Gentry (hip), who was limited Wednesday, had full participation Thursday.

Hidden yardage

The Bears’ 142 yards on interception returns against the Ravens — Adrian Amos’ 90-yard return for a touchdown and Bryce Callahan’s 52-yard return — were nearly double the 73 yards they had on interception returns all of last season, and were the most for the Bears in one game since 1964.

“Those were big yards,” Fangio said. “Some people like to say special-teams yards are [hidden yards], but really, the returns yards off takeaways are truly hidden yards in football. Those 142 yards were instrumental in that game, and we had a lot of guys doing some good blocking after we got the interceptions.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

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