For the first time this season -- Carolina Panthers fans will get to watch their star running back in action.

Christian McCaffrey and the entire starting unit will play against the New England Patriots on Thursday night. McCaffrey is entering his third season in the NFL and he's regarded as one of the best running backs that the league has to offer.

He's been working hard all offseason and he's had an incredible training camp -- but he hasn't felt any real NFL hits so far this offseason. That will change on Thursday night, and McCaffrey joked about it while chatting with Panthers reporter Max Henson.

“I don’t know if I’m looking forward to getting hit. But I’m looking forward to trying not to get hit,” McCaffrey said. “But yeah, it’s different when it’s live contact and those bullets are flying. You really start to get that adrenaline going and get back in your comfort zone. I’m excited for that.”

McCaffrey had a breakout year last season after recording 1,098 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns -- along with 107 receptions, 867 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.

His value has dramatically increased, and that's why the Panthers have held him out from any contact that could injure him. This ultimately resulted in him missing the first two preseason games.

“I definitely understand,” McCaffrey said. “I obviously want to be out there as much as possible, but I completely understand. Our coaches do such a good job taking care of us. For me, when they tell me I’m up I’ll be ready to go.”

McCaffrey's hard work on the field speaks for itself, and he'll enter 2019 with a completely revamped offense (and defense). Cam Newton seems to be healthy, the offensive line has vastly improved and the team's receivers are looking a lot better than last year. He now just has to focus on himself, and all of the improvements that he can make.

“For me, it’s upholding a standard I set for myself individually,” McCaffrey said. “I don’t have to do as much talking, guys are bought in. I just go as hard as a I can all the time and if I see any corrections here or there you have to let somebody know.”

The Panthers are in good hands with one of the best running backs that the NFL has to offer.