OMAR Mascarell and John Eustace are both knocking on the door to fill the "George Thorne" role against Fulham tomorrow, writes Steve Nicholson.
Will Hughes has started Rams' three Championship matches this season as the defensive midfielder stationed in front of the back four.
But the 19-year-old has been substituted each time, including at half time during Tuesday's 3-2 defeat at Charlton.
Mascarell, the 21-year-old Spaniard on loan from Real Madrid, has been Hughes' replacement in the three games.
Derby are still searching for the right midfield blend following the blow of losing Thorne for up to nine months with a serious knee injury.
On Mascarell, head coach Steve McClaren said: "We have to make sure we put him in at the right time.
"He has done well when he has come on and he is pushing for a starting place. He has certainly got the qualities and is adapting well.
"We just have to pick the time when we give him his wings."
Eustace filled the holding role impressively last season before suspension ruled him out. Thorne stepped in and Eustace was unable to win back his place.
The experienced 34-year-old has been an unused substitute in the four games this season, but McClaren says Eustace is pressing his claim.
"For the majority of last season he did a great job and must have felt unlucky not to have finished the season," said McClaren.
"He did not really get the recognition for putting us in such a good position last season with his performances and his leadership.
"George's injury gives him an opportunity and, if selected, he has to be ready to do the job again."
Jake Buxton is again available despite having to manage a hip-flexor problem.