Saints’ banged-up secondary bracing for Falcons

The Saints have enough difficulty slowing down Matt Ryan and

Atlanta’s passing game when their defensive backfield is at full

strength.

For Sunday’s game in Atlanta, with first place in the NFC South

on the line, New Orleans could be forced to thrust a couple

reserves into more prominent roles in its pass defense.

”We’re still trying to see who’s going to be back, but I don’t

think we’re worried at all,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

”We’ve got some young guys that can play. … We know (the

Falcons) have some threats, but we trust in our guys to prepare and

get it done the same way.”

When New Orleans practiced on Wednesday, starting cornerback

Tracy Porter and nickel back Patrick Robinson both stood off to the

side, watching without pads.

Porter hurt his neck last Sunday while making a tackle against

Tampa Bay. Robinson is having stomach pain.

Coach Sean Payton hopes one, if not both, will feel well enough

to play in Atlanta on Sunday. In the meantime, though, veteran

cornerback Leigh Torrence is working as a first-team cornerback

along with starter Jabari Greer, while rookie Johnny Patrick is

lining up in formations with five defensive backs.

Torrence and Patrick could be called upon to play key roles in

stopping an offense that not only runs the ball well, but has a

number of solid receiving targets including tight end Tony Gonzalez

and receivers Roddy White, Harry Douglas and rookie Julio

Jones.

”There’s a lot that goes into defending a team that has weapons

like Atlanta and then you throw in the tight end and the running

game,” Payton said. ”That’s not even getting into some of the

logistics we’re looking at” with injuries.

”I’m optimistic about Tracy. We’ll see where Patrick’s at. The

other players got good work in today and that’s kind of the way our

league is,” Payton continued. ”The next guy’s up and he’s getting

the practice (snaps) and you just have to be able to adjust.”

Patrick has been inactive in five of nine regular season games,

including the past four. When he has played, it has been on special

teams.

Now he could wind up seeing his first significant action against

Ryan and Co.

”It’s going to be a challenge regardless of who goes out

there,” Jenkins said.

Patrick is ”going to have a challenge and we think he’s

ready,” Jenkins added. ”He sat back for a while, learned a lot.

He’s going to have some challenges in this game, but he’s got

confidence that he can overcome them.”

Torrence said Patrick has done everything asked of him since he

was drafted in the third round last spring.

”We’re not worried about any one person because you’re not

going to go out there by yourself,” he said. ”We’re all going to

be out there together on Sunday, and what better time to get out

there than a divisional game on the road in Atlanta?”

Meanwhile, the Saints also have the option of moving Jenkins to

a cornerback spot as they see fit. Jenkins was drafted as a

cornerback out of Ohio State in the first round of 2009 and the

Saints have relied on his versatility before.

Torrence, now in his seventh season out of Stanford, also has

shown he is comfortable playing various roles in the defensive

backfield. He’s had a solid season so far, highlighted by his

interception return for a touchdown against Indianapolis three

games ago.

”Our secondary’s always been one where we had a lot of

versatile players, guys that can go inside or outside or play

safety,” Torrence said. ”That’s just part of being in the NFL,

that you may be called to do something different from any given

Sunday.”

Notes: In addition to Porter and Robinson, LB Jon Vilma (knee),

DE Turk McBride (ankle) and LT Jermon Bushrod (stomach virus) also

missed practice. … RB Mark Ingram (heel) returned to practice on

limited basis, while RB Chris Ivory (hamstring) also was

limited.