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John DeShazier: Keenan Lewis returns to New Orleans Saints defense

Veteran cornerback had been on PUP

White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. – So that's how it's supposed to look.

The New Orleans Saints' defense, for the first time this offseason, had all its major players available to practice and on the field Wednesday, on its sixth day of training camp practice at The Greenbrier.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis, who started all 32 regular-season games and both playoff games in 2013-14, was back on the field practicing for the first time since exiting the lineup with a hip injury with six regular-season games left in 2015. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley and safety Erik Harris also returned to practice from injuries.

But Lewis' return was most noteworthy, considering the amount of time he has missed. He also sat out the first three games of last season, then a fourth game after playing in three straight, due to the hip injury that eventually required surgery and extensive rehabilitation.

Certainly, it's going to take a while for Lewis to get back in football shape, to get back to form, to get back to being the player that he, his teammates and coaches grew accustomed to him being.

But at least, it's not going to take any longer for Lewis to get back.

He returned to the field Wednesday, after having missed all of this year's offseason work. Lewis passed his physical and was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and participated, in a limited capacity, in the morning practice. He sat out a one-on-one drill against the receivers, but participated in team and individual drills.

"(He) got his first practice in, it'd be too early to say (how he looked)," Coach Sean Payton said. "As far as his health, he feels healthy and is really getting out there and working the mechanics and technique. It's been a while since he was actually on the field, but he knows what's going on and it's now just getting the pivots, the turns, his pedal, technique – all the nuances of getting back on the field."

Payton said the Saints will monitor Lewis' progress.

"Any time a player is coming off of an injury, we've got to be smart about how many reps they get in the course of practice and begin to expand that as the weeks go on," he said.

Lewis was a productive, reliable cog in the Saints' defense in his first two seasons in New Orleans. He led the team with four interceptions in 2013 and was the only member of the secondary to start every game for the '13-'14 seasons. But he was injured during training camp in '15 and was dogged by his injury all season.

He didn't start any of the six games he played, recorded seven tackles and had one pass defensed, the fewest he'd had since posting one pass defensed in 2010, his second NFL season, when he was a backup cornerback in Pittsburgh.

In Lewis' training camp absence, second-year players P.J. Williams and Damian Swann mainly have been lining up at left cornerback with the starters and have been beneficiaries of the extra practice reps. With Lewis back, and when he fully is functional, it will increase New Orleans' secondary depth significantly.

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