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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

How Christian McCaffrey is setting a standard during 49ers OTAs

May 24, 2023 at 9:22 AM--

It didn't take long for Christian McCaffrey to become a leader in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers traded the running back to the San Francisco 49ers. McCaffrey joined the team, owning a reputation as a player who is among the hardest working at maintaining his craft.

The 49ers kicked off organized team activities (OTAs) this week, and McCaffrey is among the many players in attendance. While that is unlikely to surprise anyone, it's important to remember that OTAs are voluntary. One big-name player not present is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Nick Bosa. Of course, no one is concerned, given the talented pass rusher's past production.

While McCaffrey doesn't have to be in Santa Clara, his presence is another example of how quickly he's grown into a leadership role.

"Not just Christian, but the majority of our players [being here]," head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Tuesday. "I think it's been rare that we have had guys miss, so I think we do as good of that as most teams. But yeah, it's huge. It's a voluntary thing, so it is what it is, but I think it's really hard to practice football compared to other sports.

"We have a lot of rules that don't allow you to practice football, so it's very good if guys can prepare to practice so they have a chance to get better, and it's cool of all the guys who try to work at that."

McCaffrey's work ethic doesn't surprise one of his former Panthers teammates, new 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold. Reunited in Santa Clara, the two were together for a season and a half in Charlotte.

"I'm used to it. It's just his work ethic. That's never going to change," Darnold said, addressing reporters for just the second time since signing with San Francisco. "It really stems from meeting his dad (former NFL WR Ed McCaffrey), meeting his mom, it kind of stems from that, from him growing up and being raised that way.

"He's just got a great work ethic, and I think guys respond to that really well, and it kind of pushes the guys around him."

Some players, especially star veterans, knowing how long and punishing an NFL season is on a body, might opt to take it easy during May practices. Looking at McCaffrey, you would think the 49ers were preparing for a playoff game.

"Yeah, he sets the standard," quarterback Trey Lance said. "He's quickly grown into a great leader in our locker room, and I think a lot of guys had a feeling that would happen pretty quickly just based on who he is. And after meeting him, how he carries himself, just a very impressive human being.

"Some people call him like a little Bosa, just the way he's just so meticulous with his routine and how he takes care of his body. I've learned a ton from him, not only football, but being able to talk ball with him is awesome just because he's seen so many different offenses, defenses, and looks."

McCaffrey amassed 1,210 total yards and 10 total touchdowns last season—since being traded to the 49ers. His season total was 1,880 total yards and 13 total touchdowns. He proved to be a difference-maker on offense. San Francisco did not lose a game in which McCaffrey started until that NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and many will argue that was only because the 49ers lacked a healthy quarterback.

"Christian, we all know how he is as a player," Darnold added. "Christian's a great player who can go out and make plays not only in the run game but in the pass game as well. Then coming in here as well, it's always nice when you have someone that you know and that you're buddies with. When you're coming to a new place, being able to have a familiar face coming in is always nice."
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