Saints have decisions on Sharper, Ingram coming up

All-Pro safety Darren Sharper and veteran linebacker Clint
Ingram expected to play central roles on a turnover-causing,
playmaking defense that helped the New Orleans Saints win their
first Super Bowl last season.

As the Saints began the final week of the preseason, though, it
looked unlikely that either would play against the Minnesota
Vikings in the season opener on Sept. 9.

Both are rehabilitating from surgery on their left knees, and
neither has practiced in pads since training camp opened in late
July.

Currently, they are on the physically-unable-to-perform – or PUP
– list. On Monday, coach Sean Payton could not even guarantee that
either player would make it beyond Saturday’s final cut.

”One of the scenarios is PUP, the other is active roster and
the other is neither of those two, which isn’t good,” Payton
said.

If both players remain on PUP beyond Saturday’s deadline for
teams to trim active rosters to the regular season maximum of 53,
they won’t be eligible to play for the first six weeks of the
season.

”A drawback might be you might think in three weeks or two
weeks they’re ready to play,” Payton said of leaving the players
on the PUP list.

The problem is that Payton is not yet ready to estimate when
Sharper or Ingram may be ready, although he did cite one reason for
optimism.

”I would say in both cases last week, it was the first week
where all of a sudden we felt like we started seeing, both with
Clint and Darren, progress in their workouts,” Payton said.

Throughout the preseason, Malcolm Jenkins, who was drafted in
the first round last season as a cornerback, has started in free
safety spot where last year Sharper had nine interceptions,
returning three for TDs. Second-year pro Jonathan Casillas has been
the new starter at linebacker, along with returning starters
Jonathan Vilma and Scott Shanle.

If Sharper were to miss the regular season opener against
Minnesota, it would undermine some of the hype he helped generate
in a trash talking exchange with Vikings tight end Vinsanthe
Shianco via each player’s Twitter account. Sharper, who had
microfracture surgery after the Super Bowl, has expressed optimism
about his health throughout the preseason but did not speak with
reporters on Monday.

Ingram, who signed as a free agent after spending his first four
seasons with Jacksonville, was expected to compete for a starting
role that opened up when Scott Fujita left in free agency for
Cleveland. Ingram also had microfracture surgery, which regenerates
cartilage that pads the knee joint and usually requires patient
rehabilitation.

”I definitely thought that I’d be out there doing something
faster than I am now,” Ingram said. ”Talking to the doctors, it’s
basically having patience and letting it heal the way it’s supposed
to heal instead of fighting it the whole season.

”It won’t be all the way where I would like it to be, I don’t
feel at any point in this year,” Ingram said. ”But I mean, once
it gets to where I can get out here and do something without
hurting it, I’m all for it.”

The Saints must get their roster down to 75 by Tuesday
afternoon. On Monday, it stood at 77 after the club brought back
free agent defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, who was with the club
for the past three seasons, but missed most of 2009 with a nagging
right knee injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve.
The 32-year-old Clancy had microfracture surgery as well and was
seriously considering retirement when the Saints called.

”I had a nice career, can’t complain,” said Clancy, a former
Mississippi standout who still lives in Oxford, Miss. ”When
(returning to the Saints) came up, I thought, let me go out here
and give it a shot. I’m curious myself.”

Clancy, who is 6-foot-1 and said he now weighs about 310 pounds,
entered 2009 as a projected starter, but lost his job to Remi
Ayodele after his injury.

He’s had a solid reputation as a run defender throughout his
career, and his return will place pressure on 2008 fifth-round
draft pick DeMario Pressley and rookie fourth-round choice Al
Woods.

”Stop the run – that’s how I spent 10 years in the NFL. That’s
what I do,” Clancy said. ”When you ask me if I can stop the run,
my answer is, ‘No doubt.’ I don’t do anything else. That’s what I
do. That’s my M.O.”

NOTES: Payton says starting LB Jonathan Vilma, who hurt his
right groin in last Friday’s exhibition game against San Diego,
won’t need surgery and likely will be able to play in the regular
season opener. However, Vilma will miss Thursday night’s preseason
finale at Tennessee. … Rookie tight end and third-round draft
choice Jimmy Graham practiced for the first time since injuring his
right ankle on Aug. 12 at New England. … Payton said right knee
injuries to reserve safety Pierson Prioleau and reserve offensive
tackle Zach Strief appear to be minor. Both were injured during
Friday night’s preseason game against San Diego. Payton said they
are day-to-day.