Rookie Peyton Hillis, the sixth tailback to hit the sidelines due to injury this year, left the game late in the first half with a strained hamstring after a nice catch over Kansas City Chiefs safety Jarrad Page. He remained on the field for a few moments before walking gingerly to the sideline.
Although there was no definitive word on Hillis' status, coach Mike Shanahan was not optimistic the converted fullback would return any time soon. Hillis finished the game with 58 yards and a touchdown on eight carries.
"When it's a hamstring and they come off the field like he did today, normally it's a month at best," Shanahan said. "I'm hoping it's not quite as bad as I anticipate, but I was not pleased watching him walk off the field."
The Broncos stressed after the game that the medical and training staff hadn't determined how long Hillis would be out, and Hillis was optimistic he'll be back quickly.
If Shanahan's instincts are correct, the Broncos will likely rely on Tatum Bell, who was out of the league this time last month, to carry Denver's running load. They could promote rookie Cory Boyd from the practice squad this week and increase the roles of fullback Andrew Pinnock and linebacker/fullback Spencer Larsen.
"It seems like we have one go down every game," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "But luckily enough we have Tatum. He understands the system and he knows when to cut back."
Bell was effective Sunday in Hillis' place, rushing for 52 yards on 11 carries and catching two passes for 16 yards. Shanahan has used Bell on the outside, where his speed makes him a legitimate threat.
The Broncos' troubles at running back presents a unique opportunity for Bell, who played three seasons for Denver and gained 1,025 yards rushing in 2006, to re-establish himself as an NFL back.
"We've got T-Speed back there," Marshall said. "Hillis has been doing a great job, and that's the only thing keeping Tatum on the sideline. He's a premier back in this league, and I'm excited to see what he's going to do."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press