The New Orleans Saints found themselves on the receiving end of some good news on the injury front for the first time in training camp, as quarterback Drew Brees returned to practice after missing two weeks with a minor oblique injury sustained in late July. In addition to Brees, the likes of DT John Jenkins, WR Kenny Stills and G Jahri Evans all returned to practice on Sunday and Monday.
Tuesday brought another shot of good vibes, as safety Jairus Byrd took part in a full practice for the first time since undergoing a minor back procedure at the end of May. Byrd had a slight disk issue that the team decided to be proactive with, rather than putting their prized free agent acquisition at risk of further injury. Byrd was a mainstay at Saints camp, patrolling the sidelines and doing individual work as his teammates were put through their paces. The 27-year-old, who picked off 4 passes in 11 games with the Buffalo Bills in 2013, is expected to make his preseason bow this Saturday, when the Saints play at the Indianapolis Colts.
"Basically the last step was getting clearance for contact. So now you're seeing him really with no limitations," said Saints coach Sean Payton, adding that the team will be mindful about how many reps Byrd and his fellow returnees get during the game on Saturday night. Jairus Byrd had been relegated to spectator duties until he finally received clearance to take part in practice on Tuesday.
"When you take a player like Jairus, this is an important game because he hasn’t been able to play in the first two," Payton said. "I will be smart with the reps we are giving them and the amount we give them, but I don’t think you can just throw the ball out there and play. There is a little bit of football conditioning that goes into it and I think that is important.”
As for the player, himself, Byrd was enthusiastic about finally getting cleared to join his new teammates out on the practice field.
"It definitely felt good to finally get that contact out of the way, and just getting back in the swing of things now," he said. "Now it's just looking ahead to what we have got to get accomplished, this game and the long road ahead to the season."
One Saint who is almost certain to miss Saturday's dress rehearsal, and perhaps, even more time, is fullback Erik Lorig. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneer signed a four-year deal with New Orleans this spring, as the team moved on from Jed Collins. Lorig, a solid lead-blocker who can double-up as a tight end in a pinch, has remained out of practice most of August with a leg injury. The Saints signed Greg Jones to provide extra cover and competition while Erik Lorig remains sidelined.
In response to Lorig's absence, the Saints have signed former Jaguars and Texans fullback Greg Jones, while giving Austin Johnson increased work in camp practices and preseason games.
"Our preparation's got to be with the idea that, as Erik's rehabbing, we've got to be ready to have a fullback Week 1, with the chance it's not going to be Erik," Payton said, adding that Jones and Johnson "are competing."
“Greg’s a veteran player. Austin's been with us now for the better part of a year and a half. And so I think, Number 1, Austin's had a good camp. Greg's been here for two weeks. Both of them will play a lot again this weekend.”
8/19 Practice Notes
- Champ Bailey, sidelined for much of August with an ankle problem, returned Tuesday and took part in walkthroughs, though he did not participate in team drills. It's still a positive and much-welcomed step in the right direction for the future Hall of Fame corner.
- Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks remained out of practice due to a stomach virus, but is on track to play Saturday. Cooks has been the talk of the Saints' offseason, dazzling teammates, coaches, fans, and analysts, alike, with his unique skill set and dynamic playmaking ability.
- Keenan Lewis, who suffered a leg injury in last Friday's preseason victory over the Tennessee Titans did not practice for the second straight day. Lewis did work out on Sunday, but was withheld on Monday and Tuesday. Payton insisted that Lewis is simply rehabbing the injury, and there is not much cause for concern.
- In his third practice since his return, Brees and his offensive teammates continued to progress, as the quarterback tossed touchdown passes to Jimmy Graham and Travaris Cadet during team drills.
- Linebackers David Hawthorne, Rufus Johnson, Parys Haralson and Kasim Edebali all stood out in team drills. The Saints have been looking for improved play from their linebacking corps, and heading into the always important third preseason game, these players hope to join the likes of Junior Galette, Ramon Humber, Kyle Knox and Keyunta Dawson, who have all had successful showings thus far. Junior Galette has been a constant force throughout Saints camp.
- The defensive backs continue to improve in practice, as rookie Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Corey White made impressive plays on the ball throughout practice Tuesday. Jean-Baptiste recovered from a rough debut in St. Louis to put in a peach of a performance against Tennessee last Friday. The ex-Nebraska cornerback got some first-team reps on Tuesday, making the most of them as he broke up a Brees pass to Marques Colston in the back of the end zone. White, meanwhile, forced a Khiry Robinson fumble in 7-on-7 drills. Safety Kenny Vaccaro continues to thrive in his leadership role, despite only entering his second season. Vaccaro is a natural fit in Rob Ryan's system, and is primed for a big sophomore season in 2014.
- The Saints will conduct an evening practice in nearby Mandeville tonight. They will have a regularly-scheduled 11 a.m. workout back at the team facility in Metairie on Thursday, before departing for Indianapolis on Friday. Saturday's contest will be nationally-televised on CBS at 7 p.m. central time.