Good news emerged from south Louisiana Sunday as quarterback Drew Brees and a handful of other Saints returned to practice following the team's 31-24 victory over the Tennessee Titans last Friday night. Brees, held out of both of the team's first two preseason contests, had dealt with a strained oblique muscle that had prevented him from practicing and playing since August 1.
Joining Brees on the practice field Sunday were fellow camp injury victims WR Kenny Stills, LB David Hawthorne and Pro Bowl guard tandem Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs. Grubbs, however, left Monday's practice with trainers and did not return.
Keenan Lewis, who appeared to suffer a lower leg injury during Friday night's game, was also practicing on Sunday, much to the delight of Saints fans who dreaded the thought of their top corner's week 1 status being brought into question. Lewis was absent from Monday's workout, though coach Sean Payton expressed that he was simply undergoing treatment after taking part in Sunday afternoon's practice. Drew Brees was back on the practice field for the first time since July 31.
DT John Jenkins was full-go in all drills for the first time since being activated from the camp PUP list last weekend. Marques Colston was rested on Friday, but joined his teammates on the practice field Sunday.
Players still on the mend include CB Champ Bailey, LB Victor Butler, FB Erik Lorig, CB Patrick Robinson, CB Rod Sweeting, CB Terrence Frederick, S Ty Zimmerman, and LB Khairi Fortt.
Jairus Byrd, who underwent back surgery in May, remains out but is closing in on a return in advance of this weekend's important preseason game at Indianapolis, which will be treated as a regular season dress rehearsal. Coach Sean Payton said Byrd, who inked a six-year deal with the Saints in March as a free agent, is simply awaiting final clearance from his doctors.
Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks missed Monday's practice with a stomach virus, but is expected to be back sometime this week. Cooks practiced on Sunday.
The Saints have suddenly become somewhat thin at the cornerback position, as nagging camp injuries continue to prevent Bailey, Sweeting and Frederick from practicing. None of the injuries are thought to be serious in nature, so New Orleans will hope to welcome those players and the rest of their injured teammates back into the fold sooner rather than later.
Brees Expecting To Play Sunday
Drew Brees' aforementioned oblique injury has kept him out of action since August 1, but the quarterback expressed optimism that he would be in line to play and start Saturday night in Indianapolis. Brees returned to practice Sunday, and coach Sean Payton noted that his quarterback's sharpness and "tempo" had significantly improved into Monday.
"Today was my first day to kind of be full go," Brees said. "I've been taking it very slow, very deliberate, no use in rushing something that could get worse. So I wanted to make sure that it was all good. I'm still not 100 percent, but I hope by Saturday I am."
Luke McCown and Ryan Griffin have held down the fort with Brees sidelined, a situation which allowed the two to further their heated camp battle which will settle the backup QB job . The Saints did the right thing, playing it safe and smartly erring on the side of caution with Brees, while simultaneously allowing both McCown and Griffin to enhance their in-game reps and competition.
"I want to make sure that we're not looking at the date ahead of the injury," Payton said Sunday evening. "But today he went full participation. And I think he's feeling a lot better. I think the time we gave it with regards to the injury was important."
August 17-18 Practice Notes
- After an otherworldly 22 penalties in the win Friday night, the name of the game in Sunday's practice was to clean up those issues in advance of next weekend's important tilt with the Colts. Sean Payton did not hesitate to voice his displeasure at the amount of hiccups in the game against Tennessee, and his players have heard his message loud and clear.
“We pride ourselves on being a smart team, not making the dumb mistakes, so just play smart, police yourself, police the group," left tackle Terron Armstead said. "As an offensive line, if we get a penalty, try to monitor those things.”
Jahri Evans echoed his teammate's sentiments, adding that the coaching staff has brought "awareness" to the issue. Jimmy Graham was flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct after dunking the ball through the goalpost.
As for the team's would-be slam dunk contest champion Jimmy Graham, tagged for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in relation to the league's new rule against using the football as a prop in celebrations, the former Basketball player says he will get his emotions "corrected."
“At the time, I scored and I dunked. There was a little emotion there," Graham said. “Obviously I would never do anything to hurt this team in the regular season because obviously the game is bigger than any individual player. I’m just trying to win games, and that’s all I really care about. Week one through however many we play, I’m going to do what’s best for the team. (Dunking after a score) is natural. But again, I would never do anything to hurt this team.”
Payton was unhappy when his team committed 10 penalties in their preseason opener at St. Louis on August 8, so the 22 infractions last Friday left the coach rightfully steaming in spite of the victory. Discipline and execution will clearly be an emphasis this week, with the starters expected to see their most extensive preseason action to date in Indianapolis this Saturday.
“It was a point of emphasis that started with this morning’s meeting," the Saints' coach said. "How could it not be? Listen, I know they’re up throughout the league in the preseason, but I know we’re at the top of a preseason schedule. Those are things we have to go through.”
- Payton did reveal an interesting nugget of information Sunday, when he announced that offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, Jr. had handled the play-calling duties for both of the team's first two preseason games. Carmichael called plays while Payton was suspended for the 2012 season due to the fallout of the bounty scandal. In addition to that year, Carmichael gained experience calling plays during the 2011 season, when Payton suffered an unfortunate leg injury after a sideline collision during a game that year. The coach handed off the play-calling duties to Carmichael, who oversaw an offense that went on to set an NFL record with 7,474 yards in 2011.
“The first two games, yes. He’s got experience," Payton said. "We go back to 2011, where he had most of the season and he did outstanding with that. He’s definitely someone that can handle that. How we handle the season and we go back and forth. We’ll give some thought to it. Generally, there is input from myself if he’s calling them or maybe (offensive line coach) Bret Ingalls in the run game. We’ll see how that goes. We have someone who in his ninth year and is very good at it.” Robert Meachem, the team's best blocking wideout, is hoping to stick on the final roster.
- The Saints' defense won the day Monday, dominating 2-minute drills.
- Payton is looking for better improvement from his receivers when it comes to blocking on the perimeter. Robert Meachem graded out as the team's best blocker at receiver last season, yet the veteran is battling for a roster spot with the likes of Nick Toon, Andy Tanner and rookie free agent Brandon Coleman, with Colston, Cooks, and Stills all locked in. Meachem started Friday as both Colston and Stills were held out.
Payton went on to praise Coleman after practice Monday, noting that his efforts as a blocker will help support his confidence as an all around receiver.
- The Saints will return to practice Tuesday at 11 a.m., with a Wednesday practice sheduled for 7 p.m. in nearby Mandeville. They will be back at the team facility in Metairie on Thursday for an 11 a.m. practice before travelling to Indianapolis on Friday.
- Saturday's game will be broadcast nationally on CBS from 7 p.m. central.