Photos from Saints practice on Friday, September 30, 2015. Photos by Alex Restrepo (New Orleans Saints photos)
Drew Brees was confident last week. This week, his assurance appeared to multiply.
After having missed the first game of his New Orleans Saints career due to injury, a bruised right rotator cuff, Brees sounded much closer to returning to the field for Sunday's nationally televised night game between the Saints (0-3) and Dallas Cowboys (2-1) in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"Felt good," Brees said Wednesday, after participating in practice. "Felt good – making progress, feel a lot better today than I did last week. Getting a little bit better every day, so hopefully (I'll) increase reps as the week goes on, but I feel pretty good about Sunday."
Granted, Brees said almost as much seven days ago. However, two days later, Coach Sean Payton announced that Brees would sit out against Carolina; Luke McCown started his first game since the 2011 season and completed 31 of 38 passes for 310 yards, with an interception.
McCown completed 19 of his first 20 passes in the 27-22 loss.
The difference this time, and the uptick in hope, stemmed from the fact that Brees was a much more active participant in practice.
"There's something different about when you go through the mechanics of getting in the huddle, calling the play, get them to the ball, going through all your pre-snap reads and actually having to react to an open receiver versus just standing there at whatever distance away, and being very mechanical and calculated about throwing the ball," he said.
"When you're in the pocket you have to react quickly. There's times where you have to throw maybe a little bit off balance – we call them funny-body throws, where all of a sudden you've got to kind of drop down and rip one side-armed. There's elements to that that put different stresses on the shoulder and you have to experience those things before you get into live action.
"Each day I'm able to do more and more, each day I feel stronger, each day there's more range of motion and more strength, and that's the key."
He said that wasn't at all the case last week.
"Really, it was about how functional could I be," he said. "It wasn't a pain issue – I was having pain, but you get through that. It was really, how functional could I be, being required to do the things that I know I need to do to put us in the best position to succeed.
"And as I ramped up some throwing throughout the week, it just became very obvious by Friday that I was not going to be able to do what needed to be done to put us in the best position to win. And I didn't want to drag that thing out, and keep everyone else in this building wondering what was going to happen."
If there was a positive, it was watching the reaction of teammates on the sideline during the game.
"Trying to look on the bright side of missing a game, it was at times when you take a step back, there are things you see that you normally wouldn't see," Brees said. "I drew a lot of positive things from that.
"Probably the best thing was just watching how in tune everyone was to the game that was going on, not just their side of the ball – defensive guys on the sideline cheering on the offense, offensive guys on the sideline cheering on the defense, just guys really caring about one another and really being passionate, emotional about what was going on. Guys on this team care and despite our 0-3 record right now, I'm really excited about the rest of the season for us."
The rest of the season begins Sunday night, and Brees is hopeful that he'll be an active part of it.
"I feel really good about Sunday," he said. "That's four days away. I feel like I'll just continue to make progress and go from there."