Injuries force Saints to shuffle lineup
For much of the past five seasons, Saints coach Sean Payton could always rely on the consistency and health of his offensive line.
But as New Orleans gets ready for its game at Jacksonville on Sunday, Payton's offensive line likely will welcome two new starters, thanks to a run on injuries in the Saints' win against the Texans on Sept. 25.
Center Olin Kreutz (left knee) and right tackle Zach Strief (right leg) did not practice Wednesday, meaning Brian de la Puente and second-year player Charles Brown were getting work at positions with the first team.
Payton, who used the word spoiled when talking about the consistency of his line, said the lack of game experience for both of them is made up for because both have been with the team for more than just this season.
''They've gotten a lot of snaps through our training camp and really through the period of our program,'' he said.
With the six players sitting out Wednesday's practice with various injuries, including three linebackers, the Saints set about shifting their roster to add depth in the short team.
New Orleans cut defensive tackle Mitch King and placed kicker Garrett Hartley (right hip) on injured reserve and added offensive tackle Pat McQuistan, who started eight games with Miami in 2010, and linebacker Ramon Humber, who was in training camp with the Saints this summer.
The decision to place Hartley on IR came because roster space was limited and John Kasay is kicking well, hitting on all six attempts this season, Payton said.
Meanwhile, receiver Marques Colston was back at practice for the first time since breaking his collarbone Sept. 8. Payton said Colston will play at Jacksonville after missing two games.
Still, it's along the offensive line where the new faces could be most noticeable. Since 2006, when Payton arrived in New Orleans, the Saints have given up only 104 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL.
Kreutz took over this season for Jonathan Goodwin, who signed with San Francisco, and has started 137 straight games, 134 in his time with Chicago. De la Puente, who would start in place of Kreutz if the veteran can't go, has taken most of practice snaps at guard.
''He did a great job of preparing himself even though he didn't get a lot of reps during the week and that was big,'' Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.
Right guard Jahri Evans will play with new neighbors on each side. For Brown, that's a good thing - Evans has started every game since 2006.
''He definitely saved me about two plays out there and pointed a lot of things out for me before the plays,'' Brown said.
Strief, whom Brown lost a battle with for the starting position in preseason, could eventually return, said Payton, who mentioned that if the knee injury had been serious, the team would have placed him on IR.
''It's big,'' said Brown, the Saints' second-round pick in 2010. ''I've got a lot of responsibility. Great team I'm playing for. I've just got to step in and make sure I don't make any mistakes.''
Notes: Cornerback Tracy Porter (right calf) was full in practice for the first time since Sept. 14. Defensive tackle Tom Johnson (left calf) was full for the second practice in a row after missing six weeks with his injury.