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.