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Saints taking their time with Ivory's return

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METAIRIE, La. (AP)

Although the Saints' leading rusher from last season is healthy again, there does not appear to be any room for him on New Orleans' active roster right now.

After lengthy rehabilitation from a broken left foot and sports hernia surgery, Chris Ivory is eligible to come off of the physically-unable-to-perform list, but as of Wednesday the Saints had not yet placed him back on the active roster.

The difficulty in activating Ivory stems from the Saints being healthy at running back and already trying to manage a productive balance between rookie Mark Ingram and veterans Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

''Right now we've made the decision that we're not making a decision right now,'' assistant head coach Joe Vitt said of Ivory after practice on Wednesday. ''We're just holding on that and we're seeing where he is physically and we'll evaluate him as the week goes on.''

Vitt oversaw preparations for Sunday night's home game against Indianapolis during practice on Wednesday in the absence of head coach Sean Payton, who was expected back at Saints headquarters for team meetings in the evening after being hospitalized for surgery to repair a torn meniscus and fractured tibia in his left leg.

Ivory was one of the pleasant surprises of 2010 after making the squad as an undrafted rookie out of Division II Tiffin. Pressed into service because of injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush, Ivory rushed for rushed for 716 yards on 137 carries - an average of 5.2 yards per carry. He scored five touchdowns, including one of 55 yards.

However, he broke his left foot on the final game of the regular season. He began training camp on the PUP list and his rehabilitation from the foot injury was nearly complete when team doctors decided he also needed sports hernia surgery.

Ivory then began the regular season on the PUP list, meaning he was not eligible to practice until after Week 6.

''I'm ready. No limits,'' Ivory said this week. ''I still haven't heard anything. I don't know if I'm going to be activated or not, but my six weeks is over and I'm ready.''

The Saints are averaging nearly 108 yards rushing per game, which ranks 18th in the NFL.

However, in Payton's West Coast-style offense, Sproles and Thomas also play an important role in the passing game.

Sproles is the Saints' second-leading receiver with 39 receptions for 310 yards. Thomas has 15 catches for 138 yards and scored his lone TD this season on a short pass.

Thomas said playing in the running game in the Saints' offense requires patience, particularly when everyone is healthy.

Only two seasons ago, when he shared carries with Bush, Thomas was the Saints' leading rusher with 793 yards on 147 rushes. Through more than a third of this season, he has carried a relatively low 41 times for 165 yards while sharing rushing duties with Ingram and Sproles.

''The only thing I think about is doing the best job I can when my name is called and helping my teammates out no matter what because when it comes down to it, all I care about is the win,'' Thomas said. ''I love splitting the time with these guys. It gives me a chance to cool off.

''It's just a good chance to see a different running style out there,'' Thomas added. ''We have different styles of running, so it's going to be hard on the defense.''

Thomas said Ivory should guard against being discouraged if he doesn't fit into the Saints' game plan right away. Last season, it seemed the Saints could not have enough running backs. That has not been the case this season, but there are 10 games left, and perhaps a playoff run following that.

''His name was called last year because a lot of guys got hurt and he stepped up to the challenge so we know what he's capable of doing,'' Thomas said. ''We know what he can do out there on that field and at this point in time we have a crowded backfield, but he's still one of our guys. He'll be up if one of us go down. He's still in our game plan. He's still in our system. He's still going to be there learning the plays as he's been doing and keep getting better.

''And when his name gets called - who knows when that will be - but I know he will be ready because he's there all the time, he's asking questions and he's just getting a mental feel of how our run game's going.''

Notes: TE David Thomas returned to practice, albeit on a limited basis, for the first time since his concussion against Houston in Week 3. Thomas said he had problems sensitivity to light and some headaches during his absence. ''It just took a lot longer than I planned on. I'm feeling a lot better now and hopefully be out there this week,'' he said. ... Several players did not practice, including DT Sedrick Ellis (right ankle), TE John Gilmore (neck), LB Will Herring (left hamstring), DE Turk McBride (shoulder), T Zach Strief (right knee), LB Jonathan Vilma (left knee). ... C Olin Kreutz also missed practice, but not for an injury.

Tagged: Saints, Darren Sproles, David Thomas, Will Herring, Pierre Thomas

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