Saints K Hartley focused on starting fresh

Garrett Hartley doesn’t try to spin his two-week benching as

some sort of lesson that might help him in the long run.

”No, that was just something that … was out of my control and

whatever was on the plate I had to, I guess eat it,” Hartley said.

”That was what the coaches decided and so at that point, all I

know is, hey, how can I get better? How can I prevent things like

that from happening again? So you just do everything you possibly

can do in practice, prepare yourself mentally like you’re playing

in the game in Sunday’s warmup and just trust your swing.”

Like a golfer who suddenly develops a bad hook, Hartley was

having a little trouble with his leg swing earlier this season. He

missed three of his first seven kicks, all of them hooks wide left,

and the third miss came from only 29-yards out and cost the Saints

an overtime win over Atlanta in Week 3.

After that, the Saints added 46-year-old John Carney to their

roster and activated him for the past two games. Carney made his

first five field goals, but missed his sixth late in the third

quarter of New Orleans’ 30-20 loss at Arizona last weekend.

The Saints then cut Carney during the past week, primarily

because they needed space on the roster for other positions, did

not want to keep two kickers and did not want to cut the

stronger-legged, 24-year-old Hartley.

”It really became a challenge to carry the second kicker,”

coach Sean Payton said. ”Garrett has done a good job of

responding. I thought he kicked exceptionally well … and had a

good week (in practice) last week.”

Although punter Thomas Morstead was the holder in the beginning

of the year, backup quarterback Chase Daniel took over those duties

when Carney started kicking and Daniel will continue to hold on

field goals now that Hartley is back.

”He’s booming the ball now. You can tell a difference just in

the feel of it coming off my hand,” Daniel said. ”He’s hitting it

with authority and confidence. Not like he wasn’t before, but now

he’s hitting everything solid, his focus is there. I feel like he’s

going to do great. He’s got all the ability in the world and it’s

just about coming down and doing it.”

Hartley was a hero in last season’s playoff, hitting the winning

field goal in overtime of the NFC title game to send the Saints to

their first Super Bowl. He followed that up by becoming the first

kicker in NFL history to connect on three field goals of 40-plus

yards in a Super Bowl as New Orleans beat Indianapolis for the

Saints’ first championship.

He continued to look fine during preseason, going eight of

eight, including three field goals of more than 40 yards. Then, in

New Orleans’ season-opening 14-9 win over Minnesota, he hooked two

field goal attempts left of the uprights.

”On his misses, it looked like a different kicker,” Daniel

said. ”He was trying to maybe hit it too hard. Now it’s just a

smooth stroke every single time. He’s hitting them straight down

the middle.”

After Hartley was benched, he sought to learn from Carney’s

experience as they practiced together. He also spoke with

quarterback Drew Brees, who is the reigning Super Bowl MVP now but

was benched several times earlier in his career.

”Having his thoughts and his encouragement, it’s something

great coming from a leader like Drew,” Hartley said. ”Really,

part of becoming a professional is learning the routines, the ins

and the outs, and if you look at a guy like Drew or John, their

routine is by the book. … That’s something that I want to strive

to reach and that’s what I’m working toward.”

Notes: Saints RB Pierre Thomas will miss his third-straight game

with a left ankle sprain this Sunday. ”I’m a little frustrated but

it’s coming along, the swelling went down,” Thomas said. ”It’s

starting to look like my normal ankle again.” Thomas says he feels

minor pain when he jogs or tries to move laterally. ”I definitely

feel like I’ve made progress,” Thomas said, adding that he was

told to expect rehabilitation to take four to six weeks. ”I don’t

want to come back too early and get a setback until maybe the end

of the season.” … Defensive end Will Smith practiced on a

limited basis and is listed a questionable for the Tampa Bay game.

Smith sat out last week’s game at Arizona with a pulled groin but

said he believed he could have played if needed. Smith said he

would expect to be in the lineup as long as he’s well enough to

”play hard and not hurt the team.”