Christian McCaffrey, who was on track to face the Broncos on Sunday after missing the past three games with a shoulder injury, was limited on Wednesday after his thigh "tightened up," according to Panthers coach Matt Rhule.
Rhule, speaking to reporters after practice, said that he would categorize McCaffrey's status for Sunday's game as day-to-day.
"I think he might have tweaked it last week, felt good going into today, and got out there and it got tight on him," Rhule said, via the team's official website. "So we limited him. From what I know right now, we'll handle it day-by-day and see if he's able to play with the quad."
The Panthers' All-Pro running back has played in just three games this season. In the team's Week 2 loss to the Buccaneers, McCaffrey suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the Panthers' next five games. Led by the play of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the Panthers won their first three games without McCaffrey before losing their next three games before he re-entered the lineup for Week 9. McCaffrey didn't miss a beat against the Chiefs, amassing 151 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on 28 touches before sustaining a shoulder injury.
McCaffrey's absence has led to a substantially larger workload for Mike Davis, a six-year veteran who leads the Panthers with 504 rushing yards and three touchdowns through 10 games. He has also caught 52 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. Whoever starts at running back for the Panthers on Sunday will surely look to exploit a Broncos' defense that is 26th in the NFL In rushing yards allowed, 23rd in yards-per-carry allowed and 22nd in rushing touchdowns allowed.
Along with McCaffrey's situation, the Panthers recently had to put a host of players on their reserve/COVID-19 list that includes defensive linemen Derrick Brown, Zach Kerr, Yetur Gross-Matos, linebacker Shaq Thompson and receiver D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. Carolina only had four active defensive linemen available for practice on Wednesday, as defensive end Marquis Haynes was out with an illness. While they may be without several defensive linemen against the Broncos, Rhule says he believes that practice squad players Woodrow Hamilton, Mike Panasiuk, and Jonathan Wynn are capable replacements if called upon to play.
"We've kept a lot of guys on the practice squad that we have confidence in that could be elevated, that know what we're doing," Rhule said. "I think the guys that are going to be available Sunday have to be ready to play 60 or 70 snaps. We'll go through the week and see who's available, and we'll ask those guys to empty their tanks and play hard and play for a long time. And if we elevate someone from the practice squad, we've done that before, I trust those guys and I know they'll play well."