Drew Brees returns to practice

by Patrick Flanagan

Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.

Though the play was only at quarter-speed, the quarterback received a resounding applause from those in attendance at the Saints' first training camp practice at home since returning from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

For the first time since Aug. 1, when Brees strained a left oblique muscle, he fully participated in a practice.

"I've been taking it very slow, very deliberate," said Brees, who sat out six practices and two games and was limited in two other practices. "No use in rushing something that could get worse. I wanted to make sure it was all good. I'm still not 100 percent, but I hope that by Saturday I am."

While Brees had pegged the Saints' game Saturday night at Indianapolis as his date to see his first game action, coach Sean Payton wasn't setting any timetable.

"I think our plan is that he'll be able to (play)," Payton said. "Like I said earlier, I want to make sure that we're not looking at the date ahead of the injury."

Brees hasn't missed a start due to injury since coming to New Orleans in 2006. The only time he failed to play for the Saints was the season finale in 2009, when New Orleans already had locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.

He owns NFL records for passing percentage in a season (71.2 percent) and completions in a season (468) and is the only quarterback who has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in a season four times.

His ability to remain on the field for New Orleans was part of the reason the former Super Bowl MVP was on the cover of Sports Illustrated recently. The magazine article touted his offseason workout routine, which focuses on his core muscles.

In the seventh practice of the Saints' training camp, however, he injured one of those muscles. The internal and external abdominal oblique's work to flex and rotate the trunk, a key component to what a quarterback does on the field.

Brees played through a sprain of a medial collateral ligament in 2010, something he doesn't believe he would have been able to do with the strained oblique had it happened in the regular season.

"This does not get better if you keep playing," Brees said. "It gets much, much worse. This is something that needed rest."

And yet, Brees doesn't believe he regressed at all as a quarterback by being on the sideline. In fact, he believes he improved.

He took time with the defensive coaches during practices, listening to what they were telling defensive players during 11-on-11 drills. He listened to defensive calls and how they were disguising certain plays.

"I became a better player in two weeks even though I didn't take a snap at quarterback," Brees said.

NOTES: Left guard Ben Grubbs and right guard Jahri Evans returned to practice. It was only the fifth practice Grubbs has participated in, while Evans has missed the past two weeks. ... Safety Jairus Byrd and cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Patrick Robinson sat out. ... Cornerback Keenan Lewis participated in practice after leaving Friday night's game against Tennessee early with an injury. ... The Saints said 2,727 fans attended the practice.