METAIRIE, La. (AP) Rookie running back Alvin Kamara and several other recently injured Saints returned to practice Wednesday, providing New Orleans hope of getting back several regulars as the club tries to hold on to a slim lead atop the NFC South.
Kamara, safety Kenny Vaccaro and utility offensive lineman Senio Kelemete – who were among six Saints players knocked out of last week’s game at Atlanta – were listed as fully participating in practice.
Additionally, starting left guard Andrus Peat practiced on a limited basis after sitting out the narrow loss in Atlanta last Thursday night.
By the time the Saints play the New York Jets on Sunday, they’ll have had nine days in between games, as opposed to the usual six.
”We need those extra few days,” quarterback Drew Brees said.
Still, it might not be enough time for at least three players injured at Atlanta: linebacker A.J. Klein, receiver Ted Ginn and defensive end Trey Hendrickson.
None of them returned to practice and it’s not clear when they will because coach Sean Payton generally declines to discuss players’ health beyond what appears on the required injury report.
Kamara, who was knocked out of the Atlanta loss with concussion symptoms on the game’s opening drive, didn’t have much time to discuss how he was feeling as he rushed from his locker to a meeting after practice. But he sounded certain he would play.
”I’m going to be in there,” Kamara declared as he walked off. ”I’m good to go.”
And that’s particularly good news for New Orleans (9-4), which leads Carolina (9-4) in the division by virtue of a tiebreaker and holds a one-game lead over the Falcons (8-5) with three games left.
Kamara has been among New Orleans’ most productive players as a runner and receiver.
His 11 total touchdowns – seven rushing and four receiving – lead the club. His 1,247 yards from scrimmage – 608 rushing and 639 yards receiving – rank second on the team. And he leads the NFL with 7 yards per carry.
Jets coach Todd Bowles said that Kamara and fellow Saints running back Mark Ingram are ”probably the best 1-2 punch in the league right now and it’s hard to tell who’s doing what because they both break long runs, they both break tackles, they both block and they both catch the ball well.”
Meanwhile, Vaccaro’s return means the Saints should have their most experienced starter in the secondary available against New York. He has been in and out of the lineup since injuring his groin at Buffalo on Nov. 12.
He said he expected to be sore in Atlanta after having only a few days to recover from a victory over Carolina on Dec. 3.
”I was hurting pretty bad, but I feel fine now,” Vaccaro insisted.
Kelemete is not a full-time starter but has played regularly at both guard spots and has provided critical depth because of various injuries along other spots on the offensive line.
As for the players who remain out, linebacker Manti Teo had an expanded role after Klein’s groin injury, and the Saints have signed veteran end George Johnson to add depth while Hendrickson, who wore a walking boot over his injured ankle on Wednesday, continues his recovery.
The absence of Ginn – the Saints fastest receiver and top deep threat – could change the look of New Orleans’ passing game. Ginn has a rib injury after taking a hard hit in the back from a tackler’s helmet.
That could mean more snaps for Willie Snead, who racked up 895 or more yards in each of the previous two seasons, but has only six catches for 63 yards in 2017.
”Willie has done a good job when he’s been in there,” Brees said. ”For one reason or another, there hasn’t been obviously the volume that we saw last year or the year before.”
Sead was suspended early this season in connection with an offseason drunk driving arrest. He also was slowed by a hamstring injury. Now, he said, he feels fit and prepared as ever to contribute.
”It’s just trying to be patient and trusting that Coach Payton has a plan for me the rest of the season,” Snead said.
”These are critical games. We’ve got to win out if we want to see ourselves in the best position possible for the playoffs and I think coach has that trust in me, like he always has in the past.”
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