Saints are struggling, but final judgements should wait till after key players return


Yes, the New Orleans Saints have problems.  Yes, fans are tired of waiting on Jairus Byrd, the blockbuster acquisition a year ago who was supposed to “save” the defense.  Blah blah blah.  I get it.

Until proven otherwise, this is not a good football team, and I will be the first to admit it.  But the season is young, the team is not healthy (yet), and the issues that have lent a helping hand to the rocky start can be fixed.  I’m not saying they will be fixed, but they can be.  Today, we’re going to focus on health, which cannot solely be blamed for the organization’s problems, but is without question a part of it.

The Saints have been without four key players to start the season — safety Jairus Byrd, cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and running back C.J. Spiller.

Fortunately, Spiller returned to action Sunday versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was limited to only seven snaps.  He touched the ball four times, including a 19-yard catch out of the backfield (the reason he was signed) that he almost broke for an even bigger gain down the sideline.  It was a promising first game for a big offseason addition that looks to add a spark to the offense.  He was left off the injury report this week for the first time since undergoing a knee scope — his role should be extended this Sunday in Carolina.

As for Dannell Ellerbe, he suffered a toe injury during the Week 1 preseason contest against his former team in Baltimore and hasn’t played since.  The promising young linebacker, who has already proven himself capable of solid and consistent play, returned to practice Wednesday for limited action.  When he does return (Sunday is up in the air), head coach Sean Payton said he’ll likely begin in nickel formation and gradually work his way into the base defense.

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There is more encouraging news.  Keenan Lewis returned to action Wednesday for an early portion of practice and some stretching.  According to the star cornerback, he is ‘ahead of schedule’ on his recovery, which was initially expected to take 4-6 weeks, but whether or not he’ll play on Sunday is up to the medical staff.  Watching from the sidelines is a rare circumstance for the 29-year-old veteran.  Since leaving Pittsburgh and taking his talents down to the Big Easy in 2013, Keenan Lewis hasn’t missed a single game as a Saint until now.

But all eyes are on Jairus Byrd, who hasn’t played football since last October.  Byrd was limited throughout OTAs and minicamp, but some swelling in the knee that was surgically repaired a year ago (torn meniscus) caused him to sit out training camp on the physically unable to perform list.  Good news — Byrd finally made an appearance at practice Wednesday.  He participated in stretching and the open portion to the media, however, he was not involved in team drills.  Regardless, it’s progress for the injury-prone player sitting on a generous sum of money.

Unfortunately, Drew Brees is now one to watch.  Brees took a big hit Sunday, and his performance was highlighted by unbelievably poor arm strength for the remainder of the contest, especially in the second half.  Coach Sean Payton confirmed the hit “hindered” his play.  Rumors spread early of the possibility that Drew Brees suffered a torn rotator cuff in his shoulder.  Initial reports indicated shoulder problems that could leave him sidelined for “several” games.

But an MRI later revealed that he did not suffer a serious injury, but rather a bruised rotator cuff, which was confirmed on Tuesday by one of the top orthopedic surgeons out there, Dr. James Andrews — the man who saved Drew Brees’ career before the quarterback joined the Saints in 2006.  Brees’ status for Sunday remains up in the air, but he said he’s pretty confident he can play.

Brees’ injury aside, things are starting look up for this football team in the health aspect of the game.  Getting the veterans like Lewis, Byrd, Ellerbe and Spiller back on the field could be a huge confidence booster for this young team as a whole.  Saints fans shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet, but fingers are crossed.  Regardless, let’s hold off on the premature assumptions that the Saints “suck” of that this team is “doomed.”  Can we at least wait and see how they play when they get some of their biggest KEY players back on the field?

Again, the New Orleans Saints have problems and are not a good football team until proven otherwise.  But there’s still a lot to prove with almost a full season of football left to play, so let’s at least hold off on the final judgements until after we’ve seen them perform as a healthy club, if that happens.  If it’s still a total train wreck, then you have my permission to scrutinize this franchise.

Next: Jairus Byrd finally back at practice for Saints