Will return of key vets spark Saints?

by Brett Martel, AP sports

Saints safety Jairus Byrd practices at the team facility in Metairie on Thursday, Oct. 1.
Photo by Michael C. Hebert/Saints

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Drew Brees made an unusual request on Wednesday, asking Saints coaches and trainers to leave his name off of the club's first required injury report of Week 5.

Asked if he was sick of answering questions about his throwing shoulder, he responded, "Yes, I am. So you all don't have to have to ask me anymore."

The quarterback is among several veterans with New Orleans who seem to be feeling better these days as the Saints (1-3) prepare to play at Philadelphia (1-3) on Sunday. And New Orleans can't get healthy fast enough as it tries to salvage a season that began with three straight losses.

Brees returned triumphantly against Dallas last Sunday night from a bruised right rotator cuff that sidelined him for just one game in Week 3 at Carolina. He capped a 359-yard night with an 80-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Spiller — another Saints player starting to find his groove after a knee injury that kept him out for all four preseason games and the regular season opener.

"C.J. can do a lot of things," Brees said. "It's fun, now that we have him healthy and he has a few games under his belt and we can really kind of see how we can incorporate him into the offense."

Meanwhile, cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Jairus Byrd and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe all took the field against the Cowboys for the first time this season.

None of those three defensive players stood out statistically. Bryd was in on four tackles, while Ellerbe was in on one. None of the trio had a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hit, an interception or even a pass defended. Yet some of the younger members of New Orleans' defense who did have big games said the presence of the returning veterans mattered in the Saints' first victory of the season.

"It's huge, their presence," said Saints rookie outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha, who had a sack, a QB hit and was in on eight tackles. "As veteran players, they're not going to get attacked. So it helps us a lot and kind of shuts down their area of the field by the respect that they're getting from other teams."

"They were doing their job," he added.

When Eagles coach Chip Kelly reviewed New Orleans' past game, the effect of returning veterans stood out to him as well.

"Getting Keenan Lewis and Byrd back last week has really bolstered them in the secondary," Kelly said. "Obviously, Jairus is an unbelievable ball hawk."

Byrd had 22 interceptions in his first five NFL seasons, all with Buffalo, but missed most of last season and the first three games this season with a knee injury.

He has yet to intercept a pass as a Saint, but coach Sean Payton was encouraged by his return, as well as that of Lewis and Ellerbe.

"Byrd, we thought played well," Payton said. "Keenan had balls thrown away from him. I think Ellerbe playing in the weak side linebacker position did a really good job, oftentimes in coverage. ... All three of those guys handled their first week back, and that transitioning continues."

The Saints may be getting a veteran back on offense as well. Right guard Jahri Evans, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury, practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday.

In Brees' experience, teams more easily develop an identity when most key players have been able to play a few games together, which hasn't really happened yet for the Saints.

Then there is the "calming presence" an influx of veterans can bring, Brees said. Perhaps that could have made a difference in either of New Orleans' past two losses, which were each by a touchdown or less.

"They've been there," Brees said. "They understand the ebb and flow of a game and maybe the emotions or the momentum swings and that kind of thing don't affect them as much."

Notes: Payton said the Saints signed punter Brandon Fields in case Thomas Morstead, who injured his right quadriceps last Sunday, is not ready to punt by the end of this week. But Payton also stressed that Morstead is expected back "much sooner than later." ... Left tackle Terron Armstead, who played through a knee injury last Sunday night, did not practice Wednesday. ... Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams and receiver Marques Colston also did not practice, but the team said their absences were not injury related.