Injuries sidetracking Saints’ revamped secondary
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Champ Bailey worked out on his own, safety Jairus Byrd stepped aside from drills that might expose him to hitting and Patrick Robinson pedaled a stationary bicycle behind an end zone of one of the Saints’ practice fields.
That was a snapshot of the state of the Saints’ secondary on Monday during training camp at The Greenbrier resort, topped off by gloomy, overcast skies and pelting rain.
The Saints still expect to see a payoff from their decision to partially overhaul their defensive backfield with the signing of Bailey, a 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback, and Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowl safety entering his sixth season.
Coaches also continue to envision a compelling competition for a starting cornerback spot between the 36-year-old Bailey and 26-year-old Robinson, a 2010 first-round draft choice returning from major knee surgery that sidelined him most of last season.
Yet, nearly three weeks into training camp, it remains uncertain if or when that will happen.
“We’ve got four weeks still,” coach Sean Payton said Monday, alluding to his team’s Sept. 7 regular season opener at Atlanta.
Payton, who generally won’t discuss injuries during preseason, has not said specifically what has bothered Bailey since he stopped practicing Aug. 1. He also has not said what has ailed Robinson, beyond alluding to tightness in a leg muscle, since he left practice on Sunday.
Bailey, Payton asserted, is “making progress and I think sooner than later, he’s going to be back out here.”
As for Robinson, Payton said, “I don’t anticipate him being out a whole lot of time. He’s in good shape and he was smart enough yesterday — he just felt it get tight and he pulled off.
“Patrick’s coming off a major surgery and Champ’s someone that’s smart enough to know his body and obviously wants to make sure he’s 100 percent,” Payton added.
Byrd, meanwhile, had offseason back surgery that prevented him from practicing until July 29, at which point he started non-contact work.
If Bailey, Robinson or Byrd are unable remain consistently healthy, versatile third-year pro Corey White could wind up seeing snaps at any of their positions.
Since Robinson left practice Sunday, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has assigned the 6-foot-1, 205-pound White to work as the first-team cornerback — a position he could very well still hold for Friday night’s preseason game against Tennessee.
A 2012 fifth-round draft choice out of Samford, White saw a spike in playing time late last season after a serious knee injury to cornerback Jabari Greer, who was released over the winter. White finished 2013 with 39 total tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery on defense, to go with his forced fumble on special teams.
“I’m just doing whatever Rob wants me to do. I’m a moving part,” White said. “I’m next man up. Whatever I’ve got to do to help this team win I’m going to do.”
White said he wants to become a full-time starter, but did not view the Saints’ offseason acquisition of more established defensive backs as an affront.
“I just saw it as a learning experience,” he said. “They brought in a lot of vets, a lot of talent, a lot of competition. It’s a good opportunity to learn from Champ, learn from Jairus Byrd.
“Everyone knows we’re deep, definitely in the secondary,” White continued. “We’ve got vets. We’ve got young guys that can play. ... Jairus has been down a little but we know what he can do. We know what Champ can do. So overall our secondary’s pretty deep.”
Notes: RB Pierre Thomas returned to practice after sitting out Friday’s preseason opener and Sunday afternoon’s practice. ... In addition to Bailey and Robinson, those missing practice included QB Drew Brees, RG Jahri Evans, K Shayne Graham, FB Erik Lorig, WR Kenny Stills and LB Victor Butler. ... Payton sharply criticized the way his team handled practice in the rain Monday. “It was kind of sloppy, I thought. A lot of balls on the ground — too much really for my liking,” Payton said. “So probably one of our more flat practices since we’ve been up here. The weather’s not that bad. We’re going to play in weather like this.”
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