Quentin Griffin did not practice Wednesday after spraining his ankle late in last week's game against Tampa Bay. He was listed as questionable on the injury report, although Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Monday that Griffin should be ready to play.
If Griffin is limited or can't play at all, it could be an open audition for someone to provide a spark to the run game.
Rookie Tatum Bell is fully healthy and could see more carries if Griffin isn't at full speed or can't play. Bell said he's ready for an opportunity.
"I'm more focused this week than I've been in past weeks," Bell said. "Going into games the past few weeks I knew I wasn't going to get that many carries or playing time, and this week is a little different."
Bell was a second-round pick, and has great speed and pretty good size. The only question around him now is if he's ready. Bell missed most of training camp because of an early-camp holdout and a broken finger he suffered on his first day of practice.
"I'm putting all that behind me and moving forward," Bell said.
Garrison Hearst is a proven veteran who hasn't had a lot of opportunities to show the Broncos firsthand what he can do. Hearst was limited in the preseason because the Broncos didn't want to risk him getting injured, and then has been inactive for two of Denver's first four games.
The Broncos had another tailback option emerge last week: fullback Reuben Droughns. Droughns has never gotten much of an opportunity to be a featured back in the NFL, but he was an all-Pac-10 performer at Oregon as a tailback and was drafted as a tailback. He'll probably get more short-yardage carries, even if Griffin plays at full strength, and could see his carries in normal situations increase.
"He's a big back," Shanahan said. "He's had a few reps at the tailback position and I think he's becoming more and more comfortable with that role."
SERIES HISTORY -- 2nd meeting. Denver leads the series 1-0. The Broncos won the only meeting in 1997, the year after Carolina went to the NFC title game and the season Denver won its first Super Bowl. Denver shut out Carolina that day, 34-0.
NOTES AND QUOTES
The only other time Denver and Carolina played each other, history was made. Darrien Gordon became the third player in NFL history to return two punts for touchdowns in the same quarter, with returns of 82 and 75 yards in the first quarter. The Broncos held Carolina to 147 yards of offense and seven first downs in a 34-0 win.
--The Broncos have allowed three fourth-quarter points this season, the lowest of any team that has played four games. Denver has allowed 23.5 yards per game in the fourth quarter, also the lowest in the league.
"We've been fairly consistent on defense throughout the year," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Hopefully we'll continue to do it."
--The Broncos have been putting out a consistent lineup this season. In the last three games 21 of their 22 starters have been the same. The only change was in Week 2 when the Broncos started backup tight end Patrick Hape in a two tight-end set.
--The Broncos have had seven different players get a sack this season. Cornerback Willie Middlebrooks had a sack on a blitz against Tampa Bay, and he said it's the first sack he has picked up since he was playing Pop Warner football.
--Panthers C Jeff Mitchell might have some extra motivation this week. The Broncos released his brother, Clint, a seventh-round pick in 2003, at the end of the preseason.
--Broncos K Jason Elam was named the AFC's special teams player of the week after he was 3-for-3 on field goals against Tampa Bay last week. It's the fourth time Elam has earned that honor.
BY THE NUMBERS
2 -- The Broncos have only allowed two quarterback sacks this season, which is tied for the league lead.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"Our defense, we know they are going to play well. Offensively we just have to take care of the ball and put up points when we can." -- QB Jake Plummer.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Broncos WR Adrian Madise returned to the team this week after serving his four-game suspension. Madise said he took a supplement that he didn't know had a banned substance in it.
The Broncos have until later this week to make a decision on whether or not to activate Madise to the roster, and his role with the team is uncertain. The Broncos did release receiver Charlie Adams last week, but that doesn't necessarily mean the Broncos have room for Madise on the roster. Denver has five other receivers on the team.
Madise's main contribution this season was going to be as a kickoff returner, but Reuben Droughns has claimed that spot and is third in the NFL in kickoff return average.
-- DE Patrick Chukwurah has lessened the blow of losing Trevor Pryce. Chukwurah, who is also a backup linebacker, has been playing in the nickel defense as a pass rusher. His explosiveness has helped Denver get pressure on the quarterback.
-- DT Luther Elliss is healing from a partially torn pectoral muscle, and he's still coming off the bench. Having a limited role should keep Elliss healthy this season. He could go back to a starting role when he's healthy.
-- LB Donnie Spragan has turned into one of Denver's most valuable defensive players because of his versatility. He started at weak-side linebacker last year, but moved over to the strong side this year which allowed D.J. Williams to start one the weak side. Spragan also stays on the field in the nickel defense.
--- CB Champ Bailey hasn't played offense in Denver's past two games. In his last game playing offense three weeks ago, he dropped a pass in the final minutes at Jacksonville. Bailey could still re-appear on offense this season, depending on the game plan.
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