Saints’ Strief hopes to return Thursday against Falcons

METAIRIE – The Saints’ banged-up offensive line could be in much better shape for Thursday night’s game with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Saints have used four right tackles in the past four games after a chain of injuries that started when Zach Strief hurt a groin against the Philadelphia Eagles and had to have a surgical procedure for a core muscle injury.

Backup Charles Brown went down with a knee injury two weeks later and his replacement, rookie Bruce Harris, was lost Sunday to a broken bone in his right leg — which forced them to put in William Robinson, who was signed four days earlier.

Strief practiced on a limited basis last week, but wasn’t ready to go Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. Interim coach Joe Vitt and Strief said Tuesday he has a chance to play after making significant progress.

“I have a chance,” said Strief, who was limited again Tuesday. “It feels good. We’ve had all improvements and no setbacks. It just wasn’t quite there Sunday, but it felt good today.

“It’s definitely going in the right direction. But again, it’s going to be a coach’s decision.”

“There’s a possibility … it looks good,” Vitt said when asked if Strief could return Thursday. “Our right tackle situation is going to fine in this game.”

SHORT WEEK: With only a limited time to prepare for Thursday night’s game, the Saints crammed 1 1/2 days of practice into one on Tuesday when they worked on first-, second-, and third-down plays.

Usually, on their first big day of practice, it’s first and second downs. That’s followed by third down the next day, and finally goal line and short-yardage situations.

On Wednesday, they’ll work on goal line and short yardage.

“It’s a challenge, but we’ve done this before,” Vitt said.

PRACTICE REPORT: Not working Tuesday were Brown (knee), DE Junior Galette (ankle), FS Isa Abdul-Quddus (concussion), DT Tom Johnson (back) and WR Courtney Roby (shoulder/ankle).

In addition to Strief, TE David Thomas (knee) and CB Corey White (knee) were limited Tuesday, while CB Elbert Mack (concussion) had full participation after missing Sunday’s game.

ROSTER MOVES: The Saints signed tight end Michael Higgins from their practice squad to help out in case Thomas can’t play or is slowed by his knee injury and put Harris on injured reserve.

The Saints also signed guard/tackle Ryan Lee to take Higgins’ spot on the practice squad.

FALCONS AILING: Starting cornerbacks Asante Samuel (shoulder) and Dunta Robinson (illness) both missed Tuesday’s practice and their status for Thursday was uncertain.

Also missing the workout was DT Peria Jerry (quadriceps), while T Sam Baker (groin), LB Sean Weatherspoon (ankle) and WR Harry Douglas (ankle) were among eight players who were limited.

SAY CHEESE: The Saints took their team photo last week with everyone donning the familiar visor that suspended coach Sean Payton wears. Also, the spot where he would be sitting was left open.

“The idea was kind of thrown out there and everybody was game for it, so it’s what we did,” quarterback Drew Brees said when asked about the visors.