The Saints had an outdoor practice on Friday with an emphasis on third down packages. They will practice again tomorrow before departing for a road trip against the San Francisco 49ers.
Saints head coach Sean Payton announced at his weekly press conference that the participation portion of the club's injury report was the same as on Thursday with LB Jonathan Vilma (groin) engaging in full participation and RB Chris Ivory (Knee), T Zach Strief (knee) and LB Anthony Waters (hamstring) missing practice.
Middle of the Front
DT Sedrick Ellis was awarded by Saints head coach Sean Payton with one of two game balls (along with S Roman Harper) for his performance on Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings, where he led the club's defensive line with eight tackles and recorded the club's only sack in the win. After missing nine regular season games in his first two seasons with two separate knee injuries, the head coach feel's that the conditioning and improvement in health for the seventh pick in the 2008 NFL Draft has contributed to his strong start.
"He's very athletic," said Payton. "He gives us versatility in the early downs as a guy who can play against the run and rush the passer in nickel situations. He's really right at a good weight for himself. He's moving well. It was great to see the camp that he had carry over into the first game of the season. He's doing a good job. He's healthy. He's certainly one of our key contributors on that defense."
LB Scott Shanle also lauded the performance of the defensive line on Thursday closing out gaps, making it easier for them to make tackles, as well as putting a solid push on the quarterback.
"I give those guys a lot of credit. The front four did a great job. Our (linebackers) job is to tackle and those guys did a nice job of giving us those lanes. Obviously in the passing game, if you only have to cover a guy briefly and the ball's out it makes a difference. Those guys did a great job against the run and the pass on third down."
While San Francisco's struggles on offense have been heavily dissected and discussed in their 31-6 loss to Seattle, not a lot has been made of the performance of their defense. Since head coach Mike Singletary took over the reins in the middle of the 2008 season, the defensive unit, headlined by LB Patrick Willis has steadily improved. After finishing ranked 23rd overall two years ago, that rank improved to 15th in 2009, finishing sixth against the run. After finishing with only 18 takeaways in 2008, the 49ers, forced 33 in 2009, 15 of them coming on fumble recoveries, tied for the highest total in the NFL.
Payton notices the defensive improvement that has taken place under the guise of the Pro Football Hall of Famer and his defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, noting the turnovers they forced against some of the NFL's most explosive offenses last year in Indianapolis, Houston and Minnesota.
"Those are the games that really stick out in your mind when you watch other teams that have really good offenses. You see this front, the way they create turnovers and how they're playing at the back end."
Willis, who has gone to the Pro Bowl in all three of his seasons and led the league in tackles in two of them while adding six takeaways, stands as one of the linchpins of the middle of the San Francisco defense.
"We've watched him on film and he's a very good linebacker," said RB Pierre Thomas. "We know he's a strong, fast guy. He can cause problems in an offense. His defensive line also has some guys who can cause some trouble as well."