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49ers coaches Anthony Lynn, Bobby Turner explain what makes Christian McCaffrey special

Jun 2, 2023 at 10:12 AM--

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Christian McCaffrey arrived with the San Francisco 49ers on October 21, the day after learning the Carolina Panthers traded him. Two days later, the star running back lined up with his new teammates against the Kansas City Chiefs.

McCaffrey ended up elevating the 49ers offense to new heights. He started the next week against the Los Angeles Rams, earning rushing, receiving, and even a passing touchdown against his new division rival. San Francisco won that game and the 11 that followed.

McCaffrey got more comfortable with the offense as the season continued. However, against the Chiefs, the running back's head was spinning. He only had a couple of days with the playbook, after all.

"When he first got here, he was here for a day and a half, and I didn't think he was going to play," assistant head coach and running back coach Anthony Lynn told reporters on Thursday. "He said, 'Coach, you kidding me? I'm playing.' And I saw, okay, we had six or seven plays he might get. I think he had like 30.

"And he broke the playbook out on the sideline. In between series, he was studying. That's Christian McCaffrey, and so I love that about him."

Aside from the dedication to his craft, the coaches love McCaffrey's vision on the field and ability to make things happen. The running back has proven to be a versatile weapon, earning 1,880 total yards and 13 total touchdowns last season.

They also love McCaffrey's ability to analyze himself.

"I wish I had him earlier in my career," running backs coach Bobby Turner said, also speaking to reporters on Thursday. "First and foremost, Christian is an outstanding individual, you know, person, that loves the game, and he wants to be the best of the best, and very coachable. And before I can even start coaching him, he knows what he did. He knows.

"And he wants those coaching points, and he enjoys it. But he's also a player that he can just look at himself, and even when [in the play], he felt something just wasn't maybe right as far as his depth, or he could have gained another yard, or his read, or whatever it was. He's aware of it."

That's rare in an NFL running back. Turner, who has been coaching NFL running backs since 1995, can only recollect working with a handful of players who had that kind of awareness before he could teach it to them.

"Whereas he's just wired like that," Turner said of McCaffrey. "He was already intelligent, smart. But there's what I call instincts in football. He has it all."

As for McCaffrey, he loved joining a 49ers roster that had been infused with talent over the years.

"When I got traded here ... in a way I was able to play free, and I stopped pressing, and I almost felt like I had nothing to lose," McCaffrey said Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio. "I'm learning the offense as we go, so I could just go out there and play free. And to me, I think that's always when I'm at my best. So that was important to me, and that was a reason why I think it was something great that happened to me.

"But also, you look at the supporting cast that's in this offense, you look at the defense they had, you look at the coaching staff, and I just felt like it fit me really well, and it was a place where I felt wanted. Obviously, they traded a lot for me, and that meant a lot to me."

There was also a lot of familiarity with the coaching staff. The McCaffrey family has ties to the Shanahan family. There were coaches that the running back's father, Ed McCaffrey, played with and against.

"Now we have two Kubiaks (Klint and Klay) on the staff," McCaffrey said. "They both went to my middle school in Colorado. So it just feels like a big kind of Bronco-Shanahan lineage reunion, and that I got to jump in and be a part of. And it was a blessing in that way to not only just come to a staff like that, but to come and play with guys like George Kittle, to play with guys like Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams and Nick Bosa and Fred Warner and Kyle Juszczyk. All these guys who—Brandon Aiyuk—such good players who work hard, who do it the right way."

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