Another installment in our weekly series with Lee Rasizer, Broncos beat-writer for the Rocky Mountain News --
MHR -- Another week, another running back goes on I/R. What does the loss of Hillis do to the offense?
LR -- They'll try to plug and play with the likes of Cory Boyd and Tatum Bell, and maybe soon, Selvin Young. But Hillis' absence goes beyond just carries. He was a bruising short-yardage option and goal-line runner. He was good in blitz pickup. He also was dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. I'm not really sure who inherits the short-yardage job, and that would be my primary concern. There's been some talk that Boyd has run physically at padded practices. That hasn't been Bell's game, or Young's, either, for that matter. So they'll need him to emerge as that guy to keep this offense humming. Spencer Larsen missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, so I think he might be out as a potential option. But Andrew Pinnock is ready to go and the ex-Chargers fullback has the size. So maybe he's a dark-horse choice. The team's keeping it pretty close to the vest. We'll all see Sunday.
MHR -- From the outside it would appear Tatum Bell would get a majority of the work, but I'm not so sure. What are you hearing about the preparation of Cory Boyd?
LR -- He's gotten some kudos around the locker room for his recent practices. But he also hasn't appeared in a pro game. That hasn't been the case with the other Denver backfield ‘short-timers,' even if guys like Hillis were fullbacks and not halfbacks before getting their chance. I talked to Boyd the other day to get a feel for him and he's a real humble kid who told me, in college, he was bound to play just about any role, running both inside and outside and catching out of the backfield. It'll be interesting to see if he's the latest out-of-nowhere guy who tears it up or just a plain ‘ol guy.
MHR -- Does the return of Jeb Putzier mean that Tony Scheffler isn't 100%?
LR -- I think it's a hedge in case Scheffler does get re-injured or isn't completely healthy, which I'm not convinced he is completely given how sparingly he's been used at times. But mainly it's a replacement for Nate Jackson, who's out for the year. Putzier has the versatility to align as a receiver in spread formations and has good hands. He's a less explosive version of Scheffler, in my view. Denver can now go with two blocking tight ends with Daniel Graham (though he brings something to the passing game as well) and Chad Mustard, or use Scheffler and Putzier in concert. It just brings more options.
MHR -- We all know how Mike Shanahan can't stand guys that have injuries that "linger". With that in mind, what is the story on Selvin Young? Why haven't the Broncos IR'd him already and moved on?
LR - While I do think there's an element of Young being in the doghouse some, his injury is a serious one. I've been told privately that his groin issue was actually more serious than the one plaguing Champ Bailey. But I talked to Young on Thursday and it's all getting back to football shape for him now, so, given all the injuries, it may be a good thing the Broncos weren't impulsive and placed him on the IR. The reason I think they didn't was because they believed his timetable would be shorter. Only problem was Young played in Cleveland too soon because the backfield was depleted and set himself back. I don't know how much of a role Young will play down the stretch. But he's practiced fully for two weeks and will soon be an option.
MHR -- Some say this could be a trap game for Carolina. What are your thoughts?
LR -- The Panthers are 7-0 at home and playing for homefield throughout the NFC playoffs. Denver can clinch the division and has won three straight on the road. I think both teams will be pretty focused. I know Carolina has the Giants ahead. But I believe Denver has the Panthers' full attention, given the Broncos' recent play.
MHR -- Latest on the injury front?
LR -- I believe Brandon Stokley (heel) will go. I think Spencer Larsen (hip/groin) will be out. I also think Champ Bailey (groin) won't play again. There's a chance D.J. Williams is back this week. He's been aligned in position drills with the starters and has been a full practice participant. But there may also be some subterfuge since Shanahan has quickly closed practice to the media before team period begins. So it's hard to tell whether having D.J. with Webster and Winborn is a ploy and Wesley Woodyard, maybe their best defensive player the last month, is getting benched. Williams believes he's healthy enough to play.