WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) When the New Orleans Saints’ defense lined up in a five-defensive back formation during practice Saturday night, one of the first-team cornerbacks was second-year pro Stanley Jean-Baptiste and the nickel back was fifth-round draft choice Damian Swann.
The reason likely had less to do with their recent showings in training camp than the recent rash of injuries sidelining prospective strarters and regulars.
Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Delvin Breaux, who both left the preseason opener in Baltimore on Thursday night with undisclosed injuries, did not participate in the first practice back at the Greenbrier Resort, where New Orleans is holding training camp.
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As if, following an offseason of roster turnover at numerous key positions, the Saints needed any more uncertainty caused by having to constantly shuffle personnel around during camp.
At least it’s still early in the preseason. And if coach Sean Payton is concerned about it, he isn’t letting it show.
”With regard to injured players at this point in camp, I think you could go to any training camp see numbers that are similar,” Payton said. ”Obviously, we rotated some corners. … It’s what you have to do when you have some guys that are out of practice.”
Also missing from practice was potential starting linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who’d been acquired in a trade that sent receiver Kenny Stills to Miami. Ellerbe was another casualty of the preseason opening loss to the Ravens.
The new defensive absentees joined starting safety Jairus Byrd, who has been on the physically unable to perform list since camp started more than two weeks ago.
Then there are the players who’ve been missing on offense, such as newly acquired running back C.J. Spiller.
Payton generally adheres to a policy of not discussing injuries during parts of the season when he is not required by the NFL to do so. Only during the weeks of regular season and playoff games are teams compelled by the league to issue injury reports.
On Saturday, Payton again was not discussing injuries, and offered only a terse answer when asked if he was getting frustrated by the number of key players who’ve been unavailable lately.
”You can’t control that,” Payton said. ”When they’re ready, we’ll have them out there.”
The silver lining could be that the club is getting a better look at some younger players who could very well be called upon to play in big moments this season.
Swann, who intercepted Ravens reserve quarterback Matt Schaub, said he sees his first-team snaps in practice as significant moments in his development.
”It’s very big,” Swann said. ”Being able to get that experience against our top guys, our top quarterback … being able to compete with our guys, it gives me more confidence and it’s helping me get ready to play.”
Swann agreed that if players continue to be constantly shuffled, it could make it tougher for the defense to coalesce into a cohesive unit.
”We’ve got to be ready for those things. We’ve got to be prepared. It’s a grown-man league. Anything can happen, so when your number’s called you’ve got to be ready to perform.”
”It’s tough. Guys have to deal with things and sometimes those things are out of your control. You’ve got to deal with it and keep going.”
Notes: Free-agent linebacker Justin Anderson, who played at Louisiana-Lafayette in college, worked out for Saints defensive coaches Saturday evening. Afterward, his agent, Martin Albert Fischman, confirmed that Anderson was signed by New Orleans. Anderson, 24, has played two career NFL games for the New York Giants.
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