A few more queries this week were dropped into The Mailbag than last. Here they are and, as usual, we appreciate the interest. Here we go:
@5_bluejayh24: What's going on with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe? How do you think rookie safety Vonn Bell has done so far? I'm still waiting for his ball-hawking skills.
JD: Picture this visual: A man (with a shaved head) stands, arms and shoulders raised in the universal symbol that says "I don't know." Think of that whenever you ask me about Ellerbe because, frankly, I just don't have a clue. All we know for sure is that he's listed as having a quad injury. He was practicing on a limited basis a couple of weeks ago, was off the field the last couple of weeks, then returned Thursday during the portion of practice that media is allowed to view. I thought he might return after the bye but the reality is that other than his coaches and medical staff, it's guesswork for the rest of us to try to stamp a date on his return. It might not be a good thing to admit that you don't know in this day and age, but I try to be as truthful as possible, given the knowledge that I have. As for Bell, we're five games into his rookie season and I'd say he has done fine (he has moved into the starting lineup). No, he doesn't have any picks yet, but we have to consider that his snaps were limited earlier in the season. Hopefully, as he grows more comfortable, his impact will escalate (he had a critical forced fumble against San Diego).
@baankrolljayy: What's up with the Saints' defense?
JD: Young, injured, inconsistent. That's pretty much all I have for you on that one.
@marcwillmgmt: Safety Rafael Bush plays so far back as part of our defense. Do you think that has an impact on our defensive struggles? It feels like 11 on 10.
JD: We have to begin with the premise that he's probably lining up where he's being coached to line up. When coaches talk about putting players in position to take advantage of their strengths, my guess is that Byrd's positioning is where they feel Byrd's strengths best can be shown. I don't think it's having an impact on the defensive struggles, though. The Saints have played some really good stretches of defense this season – the first three quarters against Oakland, all four quarters against the Giants, the second half against San Diego and the first half against Carolina. Those happened with Byrd playing where he plays, so it's hard to lay the struggles at his feet. Simply, the team just hasn't played enough of those stretches. The most relevant number for a defense is points allowed, and the Saints are at 33.6 per game, most in the league. That's not all on Byrd, or even primarily on him. The unit is a work in progress, but I think we all know that the progress has to accelerate.
@Jaysincity: With rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins coming back soon, do you think he gets the start when he returns? Who do you think would be our strongest front four? Do you see defensive end Kasim Edebali getting more snaps after his production was good against Carolina?
JD: Rankins hasn't played in a game of any type since his final game at Louisville, hadn't even practiced since Aug. 15 until he rejoined the team in a limited capacity Wednesday. Even though he was a starter when he broke his fibula, there isn't a need to rush the rookie back into the starting lineup when he is cleared to play. He'll have to get back in game shape and he'll rejoin a rotation at tackle with Nick Fairley, Tyeler Davisonand John Jenkins. So he can ease back in. The strongest front four depends on their health and the situation; if it's pass, I'm think I'd go with Rankins, Fairley, Edebali and Cam Jordan. If it's run, probably Jordan, Davison, Jenkins and Craig Robertson. But that's just one man's opinion. And Edebali very well could have earned more snaps as a result of how he played against Carolina. He's a high-motor player who really has worked hard to sharpen his skills, not just to be a pass rusher but also to be effective against the run.
@tdrewcook: Where do you see the season going for the Saints? Possibly a playoff appearance?
JD: The optimist in me says, "Of course." Really, the first and only step that the Saints (and any other team) need to concentrate on is winning the division. Correctly, the Falcons (4-2) have earned attention and high marks for their fast start. But realize this: the Saints (2-3) are one game behind in the loss column. That's all. Now, it's early, obviously, and there's a lot of season remaining to be played. But the Saints weren't out of the race at 0-3; they're a heck of a lot more in it at 2-3. The NFC South is nowhere near settled. The most direct route to the playoffs for the Saints is to win the division.
@SaintsKid32xx: How serious is cornerback Sterling Moore's injury?
JD: He didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday with an abdomen injury. We won't know until later Friday if he has been ruled out for Sunday but if he is, that's a significant blow to a secondary that already has been ravaged by injury this season. B.W. Webbalready is in the rotation (and playing well), and Brian Dixongot some snaps Sunday against Carolina. Next in line likely would be De'Vante Harris, the free agent rookie who was active the first four games, then a healthy inactive in Week 6.
@gretnaboyWWE: Which rookie has stood out to you the most?
JD: Is this a trick question? Because it feels like a set-up. Just kidding, @gretnaboyWWE. Receiver Michael Thomas is my pick and if he isn't yours, we're going to have to agree to disagree. Thomas leads the Saints in receptions (26), is tied for the lead in receiving touchdowns (three) and is second in receiving yards (307). Among NFL rookies, he's second in receptions, third in receiving yards and tied for first in receiving touchdowns. Arguably, only the two rookies in Dallas – quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Zeke Elliott – would outpace him in Offensive Rookie of the Year balloting. And Thomas only seems to be getting better.