Broncos Update Insider - Tuesday, Oct. 12

The Broncos' quandary might not be who starts at running back this week, but how to get carries for all of their running backs. Read more about the running backs as well as notes and quotes and the report card versus Carolina in this edition of Broncos Update Insider.

The Broncos' quandary might not be who starts at running back this week, but how to get carries for all of their running backs.

It seems hard to believe that the Broncos would bench Reuben Droughns after Droughns rushed for 193 yards against Carolina, especially because Quentin Griffin struggled in each of Denver's previous three games.

But the Broncos will probably find a way to get Griffin, who rushed for 156 yards in Denver's first game, on the field.

"I'm not really sure myself," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said of who will start Sunday at Oakland. "Maybe I am sure, I'm just not telling you."

Shanahan said Griffin should be 100 percent for this week's game. Griffin worked out before Sunday's game but Shanahan said Griffin told him he was only 95 percent, so Griffin was deactivated.

Aside from Griffin and Droughns, the Broncos also have Tatum Bell and Garrison Hearst at tailback, although their roles will likely be limited unless there's an injury.

Shanahan avoided saying even whether he thought Griffin and Droughns could complement each other because of their differing styles.

"You want a tailback that has a chance to be successful," Shanahan said. "They come in different shapes and sizes."

NOTES AND QUOTES

--The Broncos will be without CB Willie Middlebrooks for the next four weeks after Middlebrooks partially tore his hamstring in Denver's game Sunday.

Denver did get CB Lenny Walls back in the lineup for Sunday's game after Walls missed three weeks with a shoulder injury, which lessens the impact of losing Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks was Denver's nickel cornerback with Walls out.

The Broncos will use either Jeff Shoate or Roc Alexander as their dime cornerback with Middlebrooks out, and will have to find a way to make up for Middlebrooks' absence on special teams.

"It's always nice to get a guy back, and if a guy goes down you have a little bit more depth," Shanahan said of Walls' return.

--DE Trevor Pryce said he's coming along better than expected after having back surgery on Sept. 22. Pryce could be back to the Broncos for their Oct. 31 game against Atlanta, but he didn't know for sure.

"Someone said 'What are you going to be for Halloween?'" Pryce said. "I said, 'I think I'm going to be a Bronco for Halloween. Dress up in a Bronco uniform and pretend I'm playing football.'"

The Broncos have the top-ranked defense in the NFL even with Pryce only playing in one of five games this season.

"I have to re-evaluate my contribution to this football team," Pryce said with a laugh. "Am I really worth this fuss?"

--RB Garrison Hearst seems to be an odd man out of the Broncos running game. Hearst didn't play on Sunday even with Quentin Griffin out with an injury, and he could find himself inactive on game days when Griffin is healthy.

--RB Tatum Bell was Reuben Droughns' backup on Sunday. He only got two carries for five yards. With Droughns establishing himself as a threat at tailback and Griffin likely to still see playing time, Bell will have a tough time making a major contribution as a rookie.

--WR Darius Watts made a largely unnoticed play that helped the Broncos win. On a third down and three with a little more than five minutes remaining, Watts reached high and made a great catch for a 14-yard gain. The Broncos got a few more first downs and ran out the rest of the clock after that play.

--CB Champ Bailey is showing why he's one of the best all-around cornerbacks in football. Although Carolina didn't throw his way much, Bailey made a few excellent open-field tackles. Bailey has said he takes pride in his ability as a tackler.

--WR Triandos Luke was active on Sunday and returned punts for the Broncos. He made one mistake, calling for a fair catch when he had room to run, but his biggest contribution is not making any egregious errors while relieving veteran Rod Smith of punt return duties.

REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS

PASSING OFFENSE
C-minus
-- Jake Plummer didn't have his best day. He was off on many of his passes and threw two ill-advised interceptions off his back foot, one of which was returned 101 yards and set up a Carolina touchdown. But when it mattered, Plummer hit Ashley Lelie for a game-winning 39-yard touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE
A
-- Only eight times has a Broncos running back run for more yards in a regular-season game than Reuben Droughns' 193-yard performance Sunday. The line opened up big holes and Droughns made a lot happen on his own, breaking tackles and often fighting for extra yardage.

PASS DEFENSE
B
-- The Broncos gave up a few more long plays than normal, but Denver allowed only 13 receptions and 173 yards passing. However, their interception troubles continued. Denver didn't get one pick off of Jake Delhomme, who had struggled throwing interceptions before Sunday.

RUSH DEFENSE
A
-- The Broncos were helped out when DeShaun Foster was knocked out of the game with an injury and the Panthers had Stephen Davis inactive, giving Carolina few options to run the ball. But give the Broncos credit for not letting up. They didn't allow a run of more than 10 yards and Carolina averaged only 2.5 yards per carry.

SPECIAL TEAMS
C
-- Jason Elam was his reliable self, going 2-for-2 on field-goal attempts. The Broncos were neither good nor bad on Sunday. Their longest kickoff return was 18 yards, their longest punt return was nine yards, but they didn't allow any long returns, either.

COACHING
B-plus
-- The Broncos can be questioned for having Plummer pass on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line -- a play that resulted in an interception. But the Broncos proved once again that their offensive system would always produce successful running backs, as they got 193 rushing yards from Droughns, who had 127 career yards before Sunday.

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