ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Louis Delmas slowly cut away the tape from his cleats as a small group of reporters stood in front of his stall in the Detroit Lions’ locker room.
He took off the cleats, shed his practice jersey, rose from his stool — and left without saying a word.
At least for one day, any thoughts or feelings Delmas has about the return to health that lets him move back into his position at safety on the Lions’ defense likely will be best expressed Saturday in Detroit’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the Saints.
Delmas has missed the past five games because of a knee injury sustained against the Packers on Thanksgiving Day, and his absence has been felt in many ways.
Delmas is the leader on the back end of the Lions’ defense, and he’s certain to make some noise — with his play, and communicating with the rest of the defense.
“He’s right in the middle of our defense,” coach Jim Schwartz said after practice Tuesday. “He does a good job of communicating. He’s a very good player, run and pass. He covers a lot of ground.
“More than that, he brings a lot of soul to our defense. That’s one of the things we miss. Not schematically, but we miss when a player like that’s not on the field.”
The Lions will play the Saints with their defense at full strength for the first time in the past six weeks.
Delmas is one of three defensive starters who did not play in the 31-17 regular-season loss at New Orleans on Dec. 4. Tackle Ndamukong Suh was on the first game of a two-game suspension, and cornerback Chris Houston was out because of a knee injury.
Rookie tackle Nick Fairley played well in the first quarter but went out when he reinjured his left foot.
All four players are available to face the Saints this time around.
Schwartz does not announce personnel decisions, but it is almost certain that Delmas will start. He looked healthy and energized in the portion of practice Tuesday that was open to the media.
Delmas was asked earlier this year about how safeties sacrifice their bodies to make plays without regard to injuries.
Delmas recited a line that he said was used by a former coach.
“You’ve only got one body. Use it,” Delmas said then.
The Lions need as many able and talented bodies on the field as possible to have success against Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He completed 71.2 percent of his passes and threw for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns in the regular season. The completion mark and yards are records.
Brees passed for 342 yards and three TDs in the first game against the Lions. By his standard for this season, that was an average game.
Detroit’s secondary, which has had coverage problems at times, bottomed out Sunday in a 45-41 loss at Green Bay. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn passed for 480 yards and six TDs as the Lions’ defensive backs seemed out of sync most of the game.
Delmas has been an impact player whose value is greater than statistics would indicate. He has not had an interception since his rookie year of 2009, but he provides a level of intensity and confidence that is missing when he’s out of the lineup.
Houston has developed a communication bond with Delmas in the two seasons they’ve played together.
“He’s a fiery guy,” Houston said. “With him out on the field, we communicate more than the other safeties here right now. We see some things, and he’ll tell you, ‘Go ahead and do that; I’ve got you.’
“It’s definitely beyond the playbook. With his speed and his awareness, you can sit on a couple of things and try to make more plays — be more aggressive, knowing that he’s got my back.”
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch joked about how Delmas communicates — along with the confidence he breeds.
“I think it’s the Miami in him,” Tulloch said. “You can hardly understand what he says when he talks. When’s he out there, he’s going to bring everything he has.
“He’s definitely what we need. He brings a lot of energy to our defense. He flies around sideline to sideline and makes plays. The more playmakers you have out there, the better off you’ll be.”