CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey returned to the practice field Monday for the first time in five weeks, but his status for Thursday night's game against the Atlanta Falcons remains in doubt.
"It's a possibility,'' coach Matt Rhule said, when asked if McCaffrey could be ready for the Falcons. "That's sort of out of my hands. I'm hopeful that will happen.''
Rhule said McCaffrey, who did not participate in Monday's light workout, would have to go through a full practice on Tuesday or Wednesday for the team to consider taking him off injured reserve.
He said that would be left up to team doctors.
"If you know Christian, he wants to play,'' Rhule said.
McCaffrey suffered a high ankle sprain during a Week 2 loss at Tampa Bay and was placed on injured reserve a few days later with a prognosis of four-to-six weeks to recover.
He was eligible to come off injured reserve after missing three games, but now has missed five. The Panthers won three straight after losing the NFL's highest-paid back at $16 million a year, but have dropped the past two to fall to 3-4.
Rhule consistently has said he wouldn't rush back McCaffrey and has been cautionary about the eighth pick of the 2017 draft returning on a short week.
He remained cautionary Monday.
McCaffrey wore a red jersey and did not participate in drills. He spent much of the media portion greeting teammates he hadn't been on the field with since the injury.
"It would be exciting to see Christian out there if he's ready to go,'' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "He's been working extremely hard.''
McCaffrey last season became the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. He had 156 yards rushing and four touchdowns to go with seven catches for 57 yards this season before being sidelined in the fourth quarter against the Bucs.
Mike Davis averaged 101.5 yards from scrimmage in the first four games without McCaffrey. He was limited to 12 yards rushing on seven carries and five catches for 24 yards in Sunday's 27-24 loss at New Orleans.
The Panthers were held to a season-low 37 yards rushing by the Saints.