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Kristian Garic

Talk sports and more with Kristian and T-Bob Hebert on "Double Coverage!" 

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Twitter: @kristiangaric
Email: kristian@wwl.com

Kristian: Byrd, Brees, Lewis all probable for Sunday's Saints game

Last Friday, Saints coach Sean Payton announced Drew Brees would not play against the Carolina Panthers with an injured right shoulder - one week later, the message is different. "I think he's planning on it, and I think we're planning on starting him. Based on the reps, he's throwing the ball well," Payton explained.

Brees was a spectator last week in the teams 27-22 loss on the road against the Panthers after suffering a bruised rotator cuff injury in week 2 against Tampa. Payton described Brees as 'crisp' in practice today and you can see the progress he's made. "The way the week unfolded, he's made the progress we're looking for. Deep balls and all that stuff," Payton added. So with Brees back in the lineup and the Saints sitting at 0-3, Payton is excited to have his signal caller back on the field, but wouldn't go as far as to say Brees will be the spark the Saints need to get a win against Dallas. "The spark doesn't necessaraly come form the QB. It starts from each player knowing their assignment and executing. There is a certainly a sense of urgency when you're sitting in the hole we're in."

Keenan Lewis: He said earlier in the week that he's 'up' for this week against the Cowboys. Lewis was sidelined for the first three weeks after hip surgery, but the Saints secondary is finally starting to look like the one on paper the team invisioned. "He's one of the premier corners in this league, he's proven that, and I'm excited to have him back," said Safety Kenny Vaccaro. What's interesting about the return of Lewis is how will that effect Delvin Breaux? Brandon Browner and Breaux were the starters in the first three weeks in the Saints base defense, but Lewis' return that could complicate things a bit.

First, the Saints will likely ease Lewis back into action, and he could be on a snap count, and be more of a roll player than a 'starter' this week in his season debut. Secondly, would the Saints keep Breaux and Lewis on the field in the base defense and use Browner to match up against the tight end Jason Witten? That's a logical thought to combat the true playmaker the Cowboys have with Dez Bryant and Tony Romo out for this game. Browner has the right size and skill set to go man to man with tight ends.

Injury Report: Saints offensive lineman Jahri Evans has been ruled out for Sunday's tilt against Dallas with a knee injury. Defensive End Cameron Jordan is officially listed as probable with a back injury. Jordan hasn't missed a game in his pro career, and the Saints are already thin along the defensive line with Jordan in the line up after trading Akiem Hicks to the Patriots this week. Jordan missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday. QB Drew Brees (shoulder), WR Brandin Cooks (ankle), CB Keenan Lewis (hip), S Jairus Byrd (knee) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe) are all listed as probable for Sunday.
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Kristian: Drew Brees says he is "ready to roll" Sunday night

Shoulder response: Saints QB Drew Brees said yesterday that today would be a big day in terms of if he'll play on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in the Superdome. Brees threw the football for the first time yesterday, and depending on how his shoulder responded, that would be a big step toward recovery. Brees told me today that all went well. "Everything felt good this week, ready to roll," he said. Now, he didn't go into too much detail as to exactly what that meant. He's maintained it would be more about functionality than pain, and it sounds like he's making the throws necessary to be functional.

Ailing Cam: Saints DE Cameron Jordan missed practice again today with a back injury of some kind. Jordan showed up on the injury report this week for the first time all season. After the team traded defensive end Akiem Hicks to the Patriots, the Saints are already a little thin at the position with Jordan's playing status up in the air. The Saints defense has also lacked the ability to consistently generate pressure on the opposing team's quarterbacks.

Injury Report: Two players missed practice today for the Saints. Defensive End Cam Jordan (back) and G Jahri Evans (knee). The following players were listed as limited QB Drew Brees (shoulder) WR Brandin Cooks (ankle) CB Keenan Lewis (hip) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe), along with S Jairus Byrd (knee).
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Saints trade for a tight end - welcome Michael Hoomanawanui

Sean Payton said today that he was "concerned" about the tigh end position on his team, and today the team completed a trade with the New England Patriots acquiring Michael Hoomanawanui. He was originally drafted by the Rams in the 5th round in 2010.  Hoomanawanui has 40 career catches, for 518 yards and 4 touchdowns in his career.

"He's not coming in to be the guy, I mean at this point it's a numbers game, but I wouldn't expect him to be a cure for the Saints passing attack," said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert.  

Saints included DE Akiem Hicks in the trade for Hoomanawanui. Read the full text of their press release below:

The New Orleans Saints announced today that they have acquired New England Patriots tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (pronounced HO-oh-mah-nah-wah-noo-wee) in exchange for defensive end Akiem Hicks. The announcement was made by Saints’ Executive Vice President/General Manager Mickey Loomis. 

Hoomanawanui (6-4, 265), was a fifth round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams (132nd overall) in 2010 out of the University of Illinois. The six-year NFL veteran has appeared in 61 career games with 39 starts and had recorded 40 receptions for 518 yards (13.0 avg.) with four touchdowns. Signed by New England in 2012 after spending his first two seasons with the Rams, the Bloomington, Ill. native appeared in all 16 regular season games with 12 starts for the Super Bowl XLIX Champions in 2014, recording three receptions for 44 yards. He then played in all three postseason games with two starts and recorded six receptions for 53 yards.
Hicks (6-5, 324 pounds), was selected by New Orleans in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Regina (Sask.). He played in 48 games with 33 starts and recorded 164 tackles (92 solo), 6.5 sacks, three passes defensed and one forced fumble.
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Kristian: Brees takes first team reps at Saints practice

Saints QB Drew Brees returned to the practice field today. “I took most of the reps,” he said. Brees missed last week’s game against Carolina with a bruised rotator cuff, but has made significant progress in a week. He told me on Monday that his playing status this week will be based on ‘functionality’ in the offense; in other words, if he can make all the throws, then he would play against Dallas on Sunday night.  In practice, Brees had some zip on the football on a variety of different throws, as and he described it, "it's getting there."

'Westbank' Returns: The Saints need him back more than ever.  With the secondary struggling, defensive back Keenan Lewis appears to be on the mend and could be back in the lineup this week against the Cowboys. Payton said, “I see Keenan having a real good chance to play this week. We have to be smart with his first week back. Just with a total pitch count, but it is a good problem to have. We spent about 20 minutes discussing this last night for half an hour in our staff meeting and we have to look, obviously, we will have more than one defensive package and we have to find a way to put our best guys out there and then depending on whether it is first or second down, or possibly third down, that could change.”  

Like the Saints have done in the past this year, it sounds like if Lewis is ready to go he’ll be on a snap count and will be eased back into action.  Lewis simply said, “I will let the coaches decide if I play on Sunday.”  

Byrd Watching: This has been a common thing in training camp, the preseason, and now into the regular season.  Byrd hasn't played in a game since week four of last season, after tearing his knee up in practice.  Byrd did participate in OTA's and Mini Camps, but missed the entire training camp and preseason and so far the first three games. "I'm as frustrated as they are," he said, referring to the fans.  "Hang in there."

Byrd declined to go into specifics as to why he's been out this long, only describing it as a long story. "We'll see how this week goes, I'm taking it one day at a time," he said. Byrd was asked how hard this process has been: "I didn't try to get hurt. It comes with the game. I'm as frustrated as anyone else," was his reply. The Saints signed Byrd in the 2014 off-season and paid him $23.6 million dollars in guaranteed cash. "That's what this week is for, to gauge where I'm at physically. With all that, I'll know more as we go on," he added. "I just want to get a week in under me and see how things go, and get some feedback from the trainers, and go from there. It's not my call. It's Coach Payton and the medical staff's decision."

Injury Report: Defensive End Cameron Jordan is listed with a back injury and did not practice, along with Offensive Lineman Jahri Evans, who's dealing with an undisclosed knee injury. Quarterback Drew Brees (shoulder) was limited along with the Safety Jairus Byrd (knee).  WR Brandin Cooks, CB Keenan Lewis (hip) and LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe) also were limited in practice. 
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Brees: Luke McCown made all the right decisions for Saints

Watching a regular season game from the sideline was tough for Drew Brees as the Saints lost to the Carolina Panthers, pushing their record to 0 and 3.  Brees watched Luke McCown quarterback the offense while he was the mend from a bruised rotator cuff injury suffered in week two. “I thought he played great.  The guy threw it to the right place every time.  Luke played as good of a game as you could play. Every decision, every throw, his demeanor, his leadership... everything was spot on,” Brees explained after the game. 

McCown completed 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.  The interception that he threw late in the ball game was just a great play by CB Josh Norman. Brees said “I was playing the game right beside him, I’ve never been in this position before. I was trying to be right next to him in the huddle.” Brees had the headset on, listening to all the plays going into Luke McCown’s helmet during the game, taking mental reps and even clapping as if he were breaking the huddle. “There is a lot of things I observed, pretty interesting.  Things you don’t normally get a chance to see.  I came away feeling really proud of our team, I thought we battled today, I thought we fought.  Guys laid it out there. Unfortunately the result wasn’t a win, but I think it shows what we’re going to be able to accomplish in the future,” he explained. 

Brees wouldn’t say definitively if he would play this Sunday as the Saints host the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans, but when I asked him how close he was to actually playing in Carolina, it wasn’t as close as we initially thought. “I’m extremely optimistic. I felt like it was going to be a magic healing as we went along. It’s not a pain issue. If it was a pain issue, I’d play. It’s a mobility, strength and functionality issue. Can I make the throws to put us in the best position to win?" Brees added,  “I’m very optimistic I will be playing next Sunday."

With or without him, the Saints showed grit against the the Panthers, but continue to make critical mistakes at the wrong times.  After three weeks of play, the Saints are one of four winless teams, along with the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions.

To hear the full exclusive interview with Drew Brees, click the link below.


FULL AUDIO: "Monday Morning Quarterback" with Drew Brees 

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Kristian: With Brees out, McCown gets "bittersweet" time to shine

Brees out:  The Saints version of an Ironman, QB Drew Brees will not play this Sunday against the Panthers.  Brees bruised his right rotator cuff in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay, but wasn’t able to make enough progress this week in practice in order to play Sunday. “It still is not where it needs to be with the strength that he needs,” explained coach Sean Payton.  The Saints are hoping that with a week off he can make enough progress to be ready next week. Brees did throw this morning, and Payton said “the velocity still wasn’t there.”  

Veteran Luke McCown described the opportunity to start this week as bittersweet. “Drew’s one of my absolute best friends. He doesn’t give up reps, much less games.  To see the disappointment on his face, as a friend and a competitor, I understand that.  He’s been tremendously supportive.”  McCown maintains that his approach has not changed this week despite finding out 48 hours before the game that he would be the starter.  

Rallying point: We’ve seen it before, right? A team loses their quarterback to an injury for a game or two, and the back up comes in; the team rallies around him. While that might be the case this week, the Saints insist the desperate 0 and 2 record is more of a rallying point than losing Drew Brees for a game due to injury. “Losing two games can rally a team, I don’t know that a new quarterback is the medicine is that we need,” explained offensive lineman Zach Strief. Sunday’s game against Carolina is the season.  If the Saints fall to 0 and 3, they’ll never catch the Panthers or Falcons at the top of the division and a wild card dream will be just that. Only the 1998 Buffalo Bills started the season 0 and 3 and still made the post-season. Desperate teams can prove dangerous.  Desperate teams can also prove to be speed bumps on the highway that just get run over. 

Prediction:  Everything tells me the Saints won’t win this game, backup quarterback not withstanding.  I wouldn’t feel good about the Black and Gold getting a win even if Brees were in the lineup.  The Saints just don’t have the talent to beat Carolina, and aside from the Panthers turning the ball over multiple times or committing a ton of penalties, they'll will win this game.  The worst nightmare is unfolding for the Saints and the Who Dat Nation. An injured Drew Brees and still winless after week three will likely be the reality on Monday.  The Panthers will play their brand of football and beat up on the already battered Saints. I say Panthers 27 Saints 17. 

Injury Report: Offenisve lineman Jahri Evans and Safety Jairus Byrd ruled out for Sunday against the Panthers. Evans showed up on the injury report on Wednesday with a knee injury.  LB Danell Ellerbe and DB Keenan Lewis are questionable.  WR Brandin Cooks is probable for the game with an ankle injury. 
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Kristian: Brees still limited, but Lewis returns to Saints practice

The condition of Saints QB Drew Brees' right shoulder has trumped the Pope's visit to the United States in a largely Catholic region, but Brees was limited for the second straight day in practice today.  It's unclear if Brees threw passes in practice after admitting he didn't throw on Wednesday.  Veteran QB Luke McCown has backed Brees up for the past three seasons and says if he's called upon to play, he's ready. "You prepare every week to be the starter... you have to, or you don't get the opportunity to be the back up.  This week is no different for me than it was last week or two weeks ago," he explained.  

Right now I would imagine that Brees is truly a game time decision, and it wouldn't surprise me at all that he plays.  If you forced me to make a prediction as to if he'll play or sit this one out, I'm betting that he'll find a way to get on the field on Sunday.  

Day to Day:  Drew Brees isn't the only Saints player that is listed as "day to day", LB Dannell Ellerbe says he's hopeful he will play this week "I'm getting closer, I'm day to day now".  Coach Sean Payton said this morning just like any other injured player you can expect the team to work him back in the mix "When he comes back whether it be this week or not, he would probably come back first in sub packages and gradually into the base. He is definitely a will linebacker with good speed. He’s not just a nickel player. I would say the first game back he would probably come back in a role like that.”  Ellerbe would give the Saints some versatility in the nickel packages on defense and is a much better pass defender than David Hawthorne. 

Cooks:  Saints WR Brandin Cooks showed up on the injury report yesterday with an ankle injury that held him out of practice.  I'm told that it's not a concern, he should be fine and ready to play this weekend against the Panthers.  Cooks said after practice today, "I'll be out there." That's certainly welcome news for a passing attack that might be without Brees as the conductor.  With C.J. Spiller potentially taking on a bigger role this week now that he's healthy, that will do nothing but help Cooks and force defenses to focus their attention away from him a little bit more. 

Injury report:  For the second consecutive day, Saints QB Drew Brees was listed on the injury report as "Limited" (shoulder).  Once again it's unclear if he threw any passes at practice, but said earlier in the week that he could not throw all week and still be sharp on game day. LB Dannell Ellerbe was also listed as "limited," still working his way back from a toe injury.  Defensive Back Keenan Lewis missed practice yesterday was upgraded to "limited" in today's work.  Offensive Lineman Jahri Evans, Wide Reciever Brandin Cooks, and Safety Jairus Byrd did not practice.   
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Kristian: Brees says "I don't want to miss a game"

Saints QB Drew Brees did practice today, after suffering a bruised rotator cuff injury in the loss to Tampa Bay. "I was limited and participated in some stuff. The idea is to make progress each and every day," he explained after practice.  

What is the possibility that Brees could not throw all week and rest his arm, but still play on Sunday and throw effectively? Brees says he's been through this in the past. "There have been times where I haven't thrown for for four or five days and been fine. It's not like I'm not doing things that aren't related to throwing a football. You're doing things that are throwing related."  

READ MORE: Brees speaks to packed media room: "I feel good"

The biggest factor on whether or not Brees will play on Sunday is how effective he can be, and how he feels.  Brees says the concern for further damage is on his mind, but not the chief factor. "That's what you think about when you think about your throwing shoulder, is not wanting to do more damage if you can help that.  I've spoke to Dr. James Andrews, we're both on the same page in terms of my route to recovery.  If and when I play on Sunday, we'll both be good with that." 

What about feeling pressure to get back on the field quickly as they Saints are still searching for their first win? "I feel the same amount of pressure to play. From a pride standpoint, I don't want to miss a game. I want to be there for my team.  I wanna play, but this is one of those injuries where you gotta be smart," he said.

Brees said that the injury needs rest and strengthening, and it's not about managing pain on game day if he plays.  The feeling in the locker room from the players is that Brees will be able to play Sunday against Carolina.  However, several players expressed their confidence in back up Luke McCown if he's pressed into action. 

READ MORE: Steve: Saints' Kikaha confident with either Brees or McCown

National analysts around the country are writing the Saints off, predicting their demise and perhaps the beginning of the end. Offensive tackle Zach Strief says he understands the criticism but disagrees. "At the end of the day, we have the best 53 that we have the ability to get in this room, and I feel confident in it," Strief said. You can point to the offensive or defensive line play, or the penalties, or the turnovers - the truth is really about talent, and the Saints don't have a lot of it.

Sean Payton however showed his team several headlines from around the country, saying just that. "The best thing to do is not read (the headlines), our story is not written yet," he added.  While 0 and 2 isn't pretty, the Saints are now a desperate team possibly without their best player, and searching for their first win.  I'm not saying they'll win on Sunday, but these things have a way of rallying teams for a week or two.
Injury Report: Even though the Saints tweeted this photo of S Jairus Byrd chatting with Payton at practice, he was officially listed as one of four players who did not practice. The remaining three are WR Brandin Cooks (ankle), G Jahri Evans (knee) and DB Keenan Lewis (hip). Two players were limited: QB Drew Brees (shoulder) LB Dannell Ellerbe (toe).
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Kristian: Brees participates in Wednesday Saints practice

Saints Quarterback Drew Brees was back on the practice field today and participated in the portion of practice that the media was allowed to attend.  Brees status was called "day to day" by coach Sean Payton earlier this morning.  Brees hasn't missed a start due to injury since joining the Saints in 2006.  

The question will be if Brees can make all the throws by Sunday, and even if he's not 100%, is he still better than a 100% Luke McCown. 

Safety Jairus Byrd and LB Dannell Ellerbe also participated in the portion of practice that the media is allowed to attend.  
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Payton: National media reports on Brees injury "inaccurate"

Following a report from NFL Network saying QB Drew Brees suffered a shoulder injury and could miss several games, Saints coach Sean Payton appeared on the "Saints Coaches Show" on WWL and called the report "inaccurate."

"Wednesday we'll have a better idea, we'll be smart. Drew battled in there, hung in there. I think we'll have a better feel on Wednesday with where he's at," Payton told Bobby and Deke He added, "He's someone you know as well as anyone,  He's going to be a competitor.  He's going to be smart about it as well. I've read the report you are discussing, and I would say it's inaccurate."  

READ MORE: .Kristian: Who Dat Nation holding collective breath waiting for news about Brees

ESPN reported that Brees has a 'bruised shoulder' and is looking for a second opinion, but Payton left open the possibility for a quick return. "It's going to be something where it's not going to be something long term. He and the doctors are all optimistic. A lot of it is going to be his ability to come back, and really feel like he has the strength he needs. I've seen the reports, and I would be mindful of them, this early in the process,"  he explained. ​

Brees has never missed a snap as the Saints QB due to injury, after joining the team in 2006.  He's been incredibly durable during his time as the teams signal caller.  If Brees misses this weekend's week three contest with Carolina, veteran Luke McCown will fill in.  McCown has 9 career starts and has started a game since 2011.  
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