Finally, there was some good news for the Saints’ banged-up linebackers Wednesday when they returned to practice to continue preparing for Sunday’s season opener with the Atlanta Falcons.
Outside linebackers Junior Galette and Martez Wilson had full participation after missing most of training camp and all four preseason games because of injuries.
Galette had a left hamstring injury that sidelined him since Aug. 7 after an impressive opening week of training camp and Wilson dislocated his left elbow near the end of the team’s fourth practice on July 29.
Their return to health is good news for the Saints because Galette and Wilson could be in the starting lineup Sunday after losing their projected starters on the outside — Victor Butler and Will Smith — to knee injuries.
Smith is out for the season and Butler is on the reserve/physically unable to perform list with the hope that he can return late this season.
MAKING SENSE: Saints coach Sean Payton said the decision to put inside linebacker Jonathan Vilma on injured reserve/designated to return made sense because it’ll give him a chance to rehab his injured knee while not taking up a roster spot.
In the past, Vilma, who had an arthroscopic procedure on Aug. 15, would have had to remain on the 53-man roster or be put on season-ending IR. But he can begin practicing in six weeks although he has to wait eight weeks to play in a game, which means he’ll be eligible to play on Nov. 3 against his old team — the New York Jets.
“This designation allows us to hold on to a player, not lose him for a season, and I think with where he is in regards to his rehab, it gives us a good chance to look at him,” Payton said. “It gives us a little bit of roster space and the ability to get him back.”
INJURY REPORT: Only two players on the Saints’ 53-man active roster did not participate in Wednesday’s practice — S Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle) and DE Glenn Foster (ankle).
Besides Galette and Wilson, several players who were injured in the preseason — WR Marques Colston (foot), G Jahri Evans (back) and WR Nick Toon (chest) — participated fully.
For the Falcons, WR Roddy White (ankle), CB Asante Samuel (thigh) and LB Stephen Nicholas (thigh) were limited, while K Matt Bryant (back) had full participation.
TOUGH STARTS: The Saints will be trying to snap a disturbing trend when they open the season against the Falcons.
The Saints have started the regular season against the Falcons six times and are 0-6 in those matchups with their long-time division rivals. Five of the six losses have come in New Orleans with the most recent being a 31-10 setback in Jim Mora’s debut as an NFL head coach on Sept. 7, 1986.
ROAF REPRESENTS: Former Saints tackle William Roaf, a 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, will represent the franchise in the countdown to the 2013 NFL Kickoff Game on Thursday night.
Roaf and a representative from each of the other 31 teams will take part in the countdown from 32 to 1 before the Baltimore Ravens face the Denver Broncos.
Roaf is one of 21 Hall of Famers who’ll participate in the event.