Defense shines in Saints scrimmage

Jimmy Wilkerson scooped up a fumble near midfield and rumbled

down the sideline, leaving behind any anxiety about the pace of his

comeback from left knee surgery.

”That’s something that I’ve been worried about throughout

practice, but today during the scrimmage I didn’t worry about it

too much, as you could see when I picked up that fumble,” said

Wilkerson, who nearly scored on the play during the New Orleans

Saints’ annual Black and Gold scrimmage on Saturday.

”I ran not even thinking about: OK, if I get tackled, is my

knee going to start hurting again or am I going to tweak it?”

Wilkerson is a new addition – a potentially significant one – to

a defense that seemed to get the best of Sean Payton’s vaunted

offense.

The defense racked up six sacks – one by Wilkerson – broke up

numerous passes, forced a fumble and left Drew Brees muttering to

himself angrily on the sideline after a string of

incompletions.

”We should score every time we touch the ball and we didn’t do

that today. That’s frustrating,” said Brees, who was 6 of 16 for

110 yards. ”Obviously, our defense is playing very well. … They

did today what everybody’s used to seeing, at least from last year

– playing fast, there’s a lot of pressure, I think rallying to the

ball very quickly and creating turnovers. That’s what our defense

really thrived on last year.”

Early on, Brees had the offense looking more like the unit that

has led the NFL in yardage three of the past four seasons. He hit

his first four passes for 64 yards, including a 40-yard heave down

the sideline to Marques Colston. That set up Reggie Bush’s 6-yard

touchdown run.

After that, the defense took control, forcing Brees into six

straight incompletions and not allowing another score for the rest

of the scrimmage.

Although tackling quarterbacks wasn’t allowed, getting a hand on

them or forcing a scramble in which the quarterback’s escape looked

unlikely drew a whistle from a team of NFL officials who were

visiting camp as part of their annual trips to discuss rule updates

with coaches and players.

Will Smith was credited with a sack on reserve quarterback

Patrick Ramsey after powering past offensive lineman Tim Duckworth.

Junior Galette was credited with a sack on Chase Daniel, new

defensive end Alex Brown got to Ramsey, linebacker Troy Evans got

to Daniel on a blitz, Wilkerson sacked rookie Sean Canfield, and

cornerback Leigh Torrence was the first of several players to force

a whistle as the pocket collapsed on Drew Brees.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma forced the lone fumble of the game

when he stripped rookie tight end Jimmy Graham after a short pass,

setting up Wilkerson’s long fumble return.

Wilkerson tore his anterior cruciate ligament late last season

while he was playing for Tampa Bay against New Orleans. Wilkerson

then became a free agent and joined the Saints, who hoped his

versatility would give them depth at both end and tackle.

During training camp, coaches have been sitting him out of

practice every other day as he continues his comeback.

”The day-on, day-off deal has been very good. It’s helped me

out tremendously,” Wilkerson said, noting that he’s had no

swelling in the knee. ”When I take that second practice off, I

know I can go the next day, full pads and being with those guys as

far as full contact.”

The scrimmage was open to fans who packed the club’s training

fields and sweltered in more than 90-degree heat. They watched

intently as Ramsey and Daniel sought to differentiate themselves in

their competition to back up Brees.

Ramsey, a former first-round draft choice out of Tulane, took

some snaps with the first team and had the most completions of any

quarterback, going 9 for 16 for 72 yards. Daniel was 4 of 6 for 32

yards, and Canfield was 5 of 7 for 31 yards.

NOTES: The Saints held starting LB Scott Shanle (strained left

knee) out of the scrimmage, but Payton expects him to return before

Thursday’s preseason opener at New England. Rookie CB Patrick

Robinson (hamstring) and WR Rod Harper (hip) also sat out. … The

Saints’ kickoff team opened the scrimmage with the same onside kick

play – called ambush – that they used against the Indianapolis

Colts to open the second half of the Super Bowl. The Saints’ return

team was even more fooled than the Colts. Roman Harper, working

with the kickoff team, was able to make an uncontested recovery.

Payton said that is how the play was designed to work in the Super

Bowl, when it instead deflected off a Colts player, and Chris Reis

recovered in a mad scramble. … Colston, who started training camp

on the team’s physically-unable-to-perform list, had little trouble

performing in the scrimmage, finishing with four catches for 73

yards. … The Saints have Sunday off before traveling to

Washington, D.C., on Monday to meet President Barack Obama at the

White House and to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical

Center. The Saints will then continue north to New England, where

they and the Patriots will hold joint practices before they meet on

Thursday.