Payton: receiver depth can overcome injuries

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, September 15, 2011


METAIRIE — When Sean Payton learned Marques Colston’s shoulder injury would sideline the star receiver for a month, he didn’t bother reaching out to any proven free agent to see if they wanted to fill in.

“We’re deep enough and we feel good about guys we have,” Payton said when asked about his receivers.

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The Saints’ coach added that Lance Moore, who missed last week’s season opener at Green Bay with a right groin pull, looked “pretty good” in Wednesday’s practice and could return when the Chicago Bears visit New Orleans on Sunday.

During the past five seasons, Payton, who calls offensive plays, and quarterback Drew Brees have managed to keep productivity in the passing game high even when key receivers go down.

When Colston missed five games with a hand injury in 2008, Moore had a breakout season, emerging as the Saints leading receiver with 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Saints also led the NFL offense that season.

Moore missed nine games in 2009 with hamstring and ankle injuries, but the Saints still led the NFL in total offense, in part because Robert Meachem had his breakout season with a career-high 45 catches for 722 yards and nine touchdowns.

Devery Henderson also had his best season in terms of catches (51) and yards (804) that season.

Now that Colston is out again, and with Moore’s status uncertain, the Saints are looking for 2008 draft choice Adrian Arrington to finally fulfill the potential he has shown in the past two preseasons.

“I think we’ll see his snap count go up. He’s someone that knows all the different (receiver) positions,” Payton said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in his ability whether he’s playing outside or he’s playing in the slot. He’s very intelligent, he’s a big target and he’s been here and knows exactly what we’re doing, so the timing and the confidence level in him is very high.”

The Saints made a trade during the seventh round of the 2008 draft to nab the 6-foot-3 Arrington, who had been a standout with Michigan and left school early to turn pro when Rich Rodriguez took over as Wolverines coach.

After spending all of the 2008 regular season on injured reserve because of a foot injury, Arrington spent most of the past two seasons on the practice squad.

Before this season, he had appeared in only one regular season game, catching seven passes for 79 yards.

“This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long while now,” Arrington said. “To go in this week and actually have a lot of plays in there for me is exciting. It’s something I’m definitely ready for.”

Arrington said he has been getting about as much work in practice as top receivers on the team for a while now. That was receivers coach Curtis Johnson’s way of getting him prepared for when he’d be called upon to step in.

“Going out there with Drew all the time and having him throw me the ball, it gives me confidence and gives him confidence in me that when we go into this game, everything will click, ” Arrington said.

Even if Arrington sees a lot of playing time, Brees could still spread the ball around among Meachem, Henderson and tight end Jimmy Graham, who all had touchdown catches in the Saints’ 42-34 loss at Green Bay.

Brees also tends to look for running backs out of the backfield, as he did against the Packers, when Darren Sproles had seven catches for 75 yards.

So while Brees said that Colston is “a big part of what we do,” he also sounded as if he expected a passing game that accounted for more than 400 yards at Green Bay to continue to produce at a high rate.

“I feel like what we’ve been really good at here over the last, going on six years now, is when a guy does go down, there’s other guys that step up and fill that void and pick up the slack and usually do a great job,” Brees said. “So I feel like Adrian Arrington, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore — all those guys — will do a great job.”

Payton said he is optimistic Colston’s absence won’t be longer than a month. Colston had a plate inserted in his right shoulder, the coach said, and is not wearing a sling. He could be seen on the sideline during Wednesday’s practice tossing and catching a ball with his left hand.