Ron Rivera started the week by saying he wanted to take a look at some of the Carolina Panthers' younger players.
Injuries might leave him little choice Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers' injury report is filled with veteran starters, but only one, running back Jonathan Stewart, is listed as doubtful. Stewart missed the Kansas City game last week with a high ankle sprain, and Rivera said Stewart is “very doubtful.”
Wide receiver Brandon LaFell (turf toe) is among a group listed as questionable, although Rivera indicated LaFell's status is more tenuous than safety Charles Godfrey (back), linebacker James Anderson (back) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (wrist).
If LaFell is out, Louis Murphy would be the No. 2 wideout, and Armanti Edwards would take the third spot.
With free safety Sherrod Martin on injured reserve, rookie D.J. Campbell will get his first start if Godfrey can't play. Godfrey practiced for the first time this week Friday, although Rivera said he did “very little.”
“It would make life tough, I'll tell you,” said Rivera if the three defensive starters can't play. “But this is why you keep the guys around that you do. I thought (linebacker) Jason Phillips played well when he had to come in for us last week. I thought (defensive tackle) Frank Kearse showed some stoutness, some physicality. I thought D.J. Campbell did a nice job when he came in for Sherrod Martin.
“Those three (injured veterans) obviously are big keys to who we are. But the three guys who came in played, we keep them around for a reason. And they showed they have some ability.”
RETURN DUTIES: Armanti Edwards has been steady, not spectacular, on kick returns, but Rivera said he may give Armond Smith a chance Sunday.
“Armanti's had a good last few weeks,” Rivera said. “I really like what he's done on the kickoff returns. He's shown some excitement. But we have an opportunity to have Armond Smith up. So if Armond's up, we'll give Armond a chance to return kicks and take a little pressure off Armanti.”
Edwards has returned 12 kicks for an average of 21.7 yards and a long of 35.
Smith returned one kick for 27 yards in a preseason game against the Jets this season.
SOARING FALCONS: Since beating the Panthers 30-28 in Week 4, Atlanta has won seven of eight, including five by seven points or less.
Rivera has seen those close games bring confidence to the 11-1 Falcons.
“You watch them and they’ll be in a real tight game and you can tell they expect something good to happen, and something good usually does happen,” said Rivera, who noted the Falcons picked off Drew Brees’ five times in last weeks’ 23-13 win against the Saints.
“The Saints would get themselves in position and then all of a sudden, bam, (the Falcons force a) turnover. Those things happen for teams that have a little bit of confidence and are playing like it.”
HALL PATCH: Players throughout the league in Weeks 14 and 15 will be wearing a patch on their jerseys commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carolina does not have a player in Hall of Fame, but former linebacker Kevin Greene is a semifinalist for the 2013 class.