Matt Rhule “hopeful” Christian McCaffrey can play Thursday

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Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey made an in-practice change on Tuesday from wearing a red, non-contact jersey to his regular practice garb and the door remains open to him returning to action against the Falcons on Thursday night.

Head coach Matt Rhule said at a press conference after McCaffrey took part in Tuesday’s practice that he’s “hopeful” about having him in the backfield this week. Rhule added that the team would have to see how McCaffrey’s ankle responded to Tuesday’s work before making any further plans.

The Panthers formally designated McCaffrey for return from injured reserve on Tuesday. They opened a roster spot on Monday by releasing wide receiver Seth Roberts.

McCaffrey’s status will be the headline of any injury news from Carolina, but he’s not actually on their injury report because he’s still on injured reserve. The Panthers injury report shows that they practiced without cornerback Eli Apple (hamstring), defensive tackle Zach Kerr (toe), and left tackle Russell Okung (calf). Guard John Miller (ankle) was a limited participant.