Saints hope injury bug doesn’t derail pass defense

Injuries in New Orleans’ defensive backfield have yet to stop

the Saints from fielding one of the best pass defenses in the

NFL.

They can only hope that trend holds in this Sunday’s regular

season finale against Tampa Bay, which will mark the first full

game without standout rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro.

”It seems like every week it’s a different little lineup and

little shake-up,” said veteran strong safety Roman Harper, who

could see more action this week because of Vaccaro’s absence. ”But

at the end of the day, we’ve all got to depend on everybody.

Whoever’s in, we’ve got to make some plays. It definitely will hurt

us without Kenny.”

Vaccaro fractured his left fibula late in the first quarter of

last Sunday’s 17-13 loss at Carolina, becoming the third regular in

the defensive backfield to go down with a season-ending injury.

Cornerback Patrick Robinson went out for the year with a right knee

injury in Week 2 at Tampa Bay. In Week 11 against San Francisco,

starting cornerback Jabari Greer went out for the year with a left

knee injury.

And throughout the season, other defensive backs, including

Harper earlier this season and safety Rafael Bush more recently,

have missed several weeks apiece with various injuries. Harper

returned six games ago from a knee injury, while Bush has missed

the past three games with a high right ankle sprain.

Through it all, the Saints have allowed only 192.7 yards passing

per game, which ranks second in the NFL.

”They’ve had some tough injuries, some tough breaks for them,

but the guys they have playing have a lot of talent as well,”

Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon said, noting in particular what

he saw on video of how New Orleans held Carolina to 10 points last

Sunday until the Panthers’ winning TD in the final minute.

”Holding that Panthers offense, which is an explosive offense, to

not a lot of points really until that last drive … shows they

have a lot of talent there.”

Bush has returned to practice this week, providing hope he’ll be

able to help fill the void caused by Vaccaro’s absence.

”If I feel I can go out there and not be a liability, then of

course I’ll go out there and play,” Bush said Thursday after

participating fully in practice. ”I’m excited. It’s been a while,

so I just want to make sure I can go out there and help the team

play – and win.”

The consensus among Saints players and coaches is that losing

Vaccaro will hurt. He was third on the team in total tackles with

77. He had one interception and also was credited with a sack, a

forced fumble and four tackles for losses.

”Losing a player like Kenny is tough because he had really

established himself,” coach Sean Payton said. ”But the next guy

will step up. We’ll have a plan.”

Add free safety Malcolm Jenkins: ”Obviously just his style of

play, his production, is going to be a big loss.”

But Jenkins, who was drafted as a cornerback in 2009 and has

experience defending slot receivers as the nickel back in a

five-defensive back formation, said the Saints have versatility in

their favor.

”You can still move me and Roman around, or push (cornerback)

Corey White in to help take that (nickel back) role,” Jenkins

said. ”We have a lot of guys that can move around to a lot of

different positions, so I don’t think we’ll be limited at all as

far as scheme.”

And if Bush returns, all the better, Jenkins said.

”The thing about Raf is he’s very talented, very athletic,”

Jenkins said, adding that Bush covers tight ends well, something

Vaccaro also did. ”He’s got range, so he can play deep, he plays

the ball well, he tackles really well, which is probably one of his

best attributes. … We’re comfortable with him out there.”

NOTES: The Saints had nine players listed on their injury

report, but did not have any players listed as limited or not

participating in practice. All practiced fully with various

ailments, including quarterback Drew Brees, who has a right knee

bruise.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org