How Christian McCaffrey and his brothers are staying football-ready

McCaffrey family battles social distancing with family workouts (1:03)

David Newton explains how the McCaffrey family has turned social distancing into a positive situation by having family workout time. (1:03)

There's a public park next to the Colorado home of Ed and Lisa McCaffrey where their four sons played as kids. It's not easily visible to the general public, tucked behind two big hills in a suburb outside Denver.

The park almost was taken for granted by Max, Christian, Dylan and Luke while they were growing up as sons of Denver Broncos wide receiver Ed McCaffrey. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has become a makeshift offseason training site for three of them.

It is on this field where Christian, the 23-year-old All-Pro running back for the Carolina Panthers; Dylan, 21, a junior quarterback for the University of Michigan; and Luke, 19, a sophomore quarterback for the University of Nebraska, work out daily with their three-time Super Bowl champion father, who is the head football coach at the University of Northern Colorado.

Max, 25, a former Duke wide receiver who has spent some time in the NFL, would be there as well if he weren't holed up on the South Carolina coast with his girlfriend and her family.

The McCaffreys are making the most of a football offseason of social distancing, seclusion and training.

"It's provided us with a good situation for the time, even though each one of us would love to be with our teammates," Dylan said. "Never in a million years would we have come home for this long and have the opportunity to do this if the world wasn't, unfortunately, the way it is right now.

"I don't know if we have all sat down and focused on football like this, probably ever."

Occasionally a few fans will gather to watch the practices.

"Christian gave his gloves to one little kid who was there, which was kind of cool to see," Dylan said. "We don't turn heads quite like him."

Dylan and Luke can put their older brother -- who last season became the third NFL player to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season -- through any drill Christian ran with the Panthers. And they keep their timing down with arguably the most versatile running back in the NFL, a player who can run the route tree as well as any wide receiver.

They're a family-made team with a dad who has coached them almost from the time they were born.

"I'm able to do everything," Christian said. "It's just not with the team."

Typical day

The time of the wake-up call varies, depending on how late the three stayed up the night before playing video games or binging the latest Netflix series, but making sure everyone gets a good night's sleep is a priority.

Christian has a unique way of conditioning, more like a track athlete in terms of stretching and yoga-like drills to focus on his core.

"It works for me. It warms me up, and I stick to it," he said.

Dylan and Luke join Christian in his conditioning occasionally, but because they are quarterbacks, they'll often work separately to focus on the arms and upper body.

They all lift together on a slot rack their dad used when he was a player for the Broncos from 1995 to 2003 and a few other pieces of equipment they purchased on their own for their parents' home.

"I don't know if [the weights] had been touched from then until now," Dylan joked.

Ed, 51, often will put Dylan and Luke through passing drills while Christian warms up. Ed also will run routes. He's well qualified, having made 565 catches for 7,422 yards and 55 touchdowns in 13 NFL seasons.

"It's awesome," said Dylan, the heir apparent to Shea Patterson as Michigan's starter. "It allows me to train at the highest level I possibly can, which is tough for a lot of people during this time."

When Christian joins the group, he'll work on routes from his new playbook provided by first-year offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who helped make LSU quarterback Joe Burrow the Heisman Trophy winner and first pick of the 2020 NFL draft, by Cincinnati.

Watching Christian's work ethic is inspiring to his younger siblings.

"He's worked very hard to get to the level he is, and that's motivation for us to get out and work," Dylan said.

One component missing

So who plays defense?

"Nobody right now," Dylan said with a laugh. "Every now and then me and my little brother try to get out there and try and cover [Christian] or stand where a defender would be."

Ultimately, though, neither is able to stay with a player who former Panthers teammate Jonathan Stewart said was "unstoppable" in one-on-one situations.

Much of what they do has an impact on the mental side of the game as well.

"We've had multiple times where we're sitting around the living room and we'll go through some film on a team and get everybody's opinion, as scholars of the game instead of just fans," Dylan said. "We've been able to train at a pretty high level."

Go to your rooms

The sharing of knowledge doesn't include sitting in on each other's virtual team meetings. And it most definitely doesn't include sharing each other's playbooks.

They'll go to their respective rooms at their parents' home or Christian's apartment not far away for team-specific study. Michigan and Nebraska aren't scheduled to play each other in 2020, but there's still protocol to follow.

"A little hesitant to just dish that out," Dylan said. "I'll give my dad a few golden plays every now and then, but it's almost like a sacred text between buildings. You don't do that very much."

Christian in particular has to keep proprietary rights. The Panthers don't want to give away any secrets that Brady and first-year coach Matt Rhule could spring on NFL competition this fall.

Working on his own isn't much different from what Christian experienced in 2017 after being selected with the No. 8 pick.

Because Stanford's academic calendar is on a quarters system and the NCAA doesn't allow players to participate in NFL offseason programs until final exams are completed, Christian didn't join the Panthers until June and prepared for his rookie season in 2017 virtually.

"The biggest thing is you've got to adapt," Christian said. "Everyone in the league is going through the same thing. We can't start making excuses for ourselves because we're talking over a camera."

Sibling rivalry

Christian has no competition for the Panthers' starting job, so how he emerges from the lockdown isn't significant from a playing-time standpoint. That angle is a lot more important to his brothers.

Dylan must beat out sophomore Joe Milton at Michigan. Luke is involved in what has been called a wide-open competition against 2019 starter Adrian Martinez, who is recovering from surgery, and others on the Nebraska depth chart. If he doesn't do well, he could be moved to another position.

The competition among the brothers should help for what's ahead. But the most intense competition comes after practice, when the brothers begin playing video games.

"Luke and Christian will come to blows with that," Dylan said. "I'll get competitive with my brother fishing."

Christian's competitive nature in video games was legendary when he was at Stanford.

"Christian has a habit of breaking controllers," former Cardinal teammate and current San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Solomon Thomas told ESPN last season.

Some of the most intense video game battles are in Fortnite and in NHL games. They dug up their old Xbox to play NCAA Football. Christian typically chooses to play as Stanford and use star back Tyler Gaffney.

"That's the one that gets us riled up the most," Dylan said. "If [Christian] wins, I'll get upset. If I win, he'll get upset. No matter what, somebody is upset the rest of the day.

On the field, the brotherly competition is mostly between Dylan and Luke because they play the same position. Their father, for example, will drag a garbage can out to see who's best at dropping footballs into one at various distances.

"When [Luke] won, I don't know if I spoke to him about it the rest of the day," Dylan said.

Christian, who has an NFL touchdown pass, doesn't get upset if he loses in that contest because throwing isn't his primary responsibility.

"Now, if we beat him in a race, that would be different," Dylan said. "He'd be pretty upset."


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Christian ran the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds at the NFL combine coming out of Stanford. Luke, who has lined up some at receiver, at running back and on kick returns for Nebraska, has been clocked in the 4.5 range.

"That would be an interesting race to see them both head-to-head," Dylan said. "Right now I'd be third there, but I'm working on it."

All three brothers and their father are working together to become better when the pandemic restrictions are lifted and they are allowed to return to their teams. They're making the most out of a strange time, and all are thankful they have one another.

"I'm very fortunate with the setup here," Christian said. "I've got everything I need. I've been treating this like it's OTAs. So for me it's been great."

Dylan agreed.

"It's unfortunate it's a negative circumstance," he said. "However, it definitely paints a picture of what's really, truly important in life and what would hurt you if you lost something right now. It would be the people you love."