Saints preseason clouded by injuries to key veterans
METAIRIE, La. (AP) Saints coach Sean Payton is willing to concede that New Orleans' preseason hasn't been ideal as far as creating cohesion among projected regulars.
A handful of veterans who were expected to compete for starting or regular roles haven't practiced or played much at all in several weeks, and one of them is already out for the season.
''Some of that you can't control and it's not just unique to our team. It's pretty common in the league,'' Payton said after practice Tuesday evening. ''You'd like to have your starting units intact and yet that's not always the case.''
Cornerback Brandon Browner, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, running back C.J. Spiller and linebacker Anthony Spencer were all brought in this past offseason in the hope they could play significant roles while providing veteran leadership at their position groups.
On Tuesday, the Saints placed Spencer on injured reserve, ending his season. Spiller has yet to play in a preseason game and hasn't practiced in weeks. Browner and Ellerbe were both hurt in the early stages of the opening preseason game at Baltimore on Aug. 13 and Payton hasn't provided timelines for their returns.
Meanwhile, former Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd, the Saints' most significant offseason acquisition in 2014, has been on the physically unable to perform list this training camp after missing the last 12 games of last season with a knee injury.
New Orleans (0-3) closes its preseason slate at Green Bay on Thursday night, and then preparations start for the season opener at Arizona on Sept. 13.
''Continuity is important. Obviously, the more (snaps) you can have together, that's important, especially as a comfort level going into the season,'' quarterback Drew Brees said, referring to the absence of key veterans for much of the preseason. ''But all these guys have played enough football and they're all smart guys. They're professionals.''
''So, even though maybe they haven't been out there ... you know that they've been around,'' Brees continued. ''You know that they've been in meetings. You know that they will be ready to go when they're healthy and when they are able.''
Kevin Williams is another veteran who was brought in play a regular role. So far, he has remained healthy and is on track to start at defensive tackle.
He said experienced players like Browner know what to do when they step back on the field after an absence and are able to keep up with their assignments by attending meetings. Conditioning is their biggest concern, he said.
And if it turns out that some projected regulars remain unavailable, ''Most teams look at it as: You're only as good as your backups anyway,'' Williams said.
''We think we have a good group of guys who can handle it,'' he added.
Payton's own decade of experience since receiving his only head coaching job helps him keep his cool when it comes to circumstances beyond his control.
''Every team at this point in the year gets anxious to start the regular season,'' Payton said. ''That same anxious feeling exists with how your team is going to be, how it is going to come together, how your (53-man active roster) is going to shape up - because some of those things still aren't decided - and then how are they going to play early on in the season?
''All of those things are pretty common feelings, I think, heading into the start of a new year.''
NOTES: Starting cornerback Keenan Lewis was not at the portion of practice open to reporters. ... Payton said he intends to auction off for charity a Saints jacket he wore during a preseason game against Houston on Sunday, the day after the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The black jacket was emblazoned with a white ''X'' that resembled symbols spray-painted on homes that had been searched by rescue teams after the storm. ''A lot of people asked where they could buy it and it was kind of homemade,'' Payton said. ''There is only one of them.''