Thomas, Davenport out while Ruiz, Williams return to practice for Saints

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PJ Williams tackle
Saints DB PJ Williams (#26) practiced Thursday after missing the season opener (File Photo: Parker Waters)

In the first injury report for the Monday Night Football contest between the New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders, as expected, Michael Thomas did not practice today as the Saints returned to work in preparation for the game. Thomas has a high ankle sprain.

Marcus Davenport remained out with his elbow injury while Emmanuel Sanders sat out but it was apparently not related to an injury.

Offensive lineman and top draft pick Cesar Ruiz returned to practice on a limited basis. Ruiz missed the season opening win over Tampa Bay with an ankle injury.

Safety P.J. Williams returned to work in full fashion after being out with a hamstring injury last week.

The Raiders have a long injury list, including seven players who did not practice today.

Tackle Sam Young (groin), wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (knee), linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (pectoral), offensive lineman Richie Incognito (Achilles) and tackle Trent Brown (calf) did not work while tight end Jason Witten and center Rodney Hudson did not practice, either, but neither of those are injury related.

The Saints and Raiders play the first game ever at new Allegiant Stadium but no fans will be allowed.

New Orleans Saints Running Back Alvin Kamara
Video Call
Thursday, September 17, 2020

After looking back through the tape from the Buccaneers game, what was kind of your assessment of where you guys were at offensively? And was there maybe some stuff that you guys could have hit on that that just didn’t hit for whatever reason that game?
“I think, overall, we’ve just got to start faster. I think we played with good energy as the game got going, but just starting, first game, working out some kinks, but just start faster. Try to be more detailed in the things that we’re trying to get going. We got a win, but it was a lot we had to clean up. So, got that done.”

We don’t know if Michael (Thomas) is going to play or not, but just playing without him, the impact he has on the offense, you all did it last year without Drew (Brees), you did it last year without you, just maybe the potential that Michael may not be there and the roles that other guys will have to accept?
“Every week, we’re only on week one, but every week guys are ready to play. (It’s) unfortunate with Mike (Thomas). We don’t know the status, but it’s a next man up mentality. Guys in practice they’re working hard. Everybody takes pride in knowing what to do in case somebody goes down, Drew went down last year, I went down, it is what it is. You’ve got to keep moving.”

Just being around Deonte Harris and seeing what he can do, his unique skill set, they have him out there in the wild cat with you. What are some of the things that that you’ve seen from him that he can bring to this offense with the creativity and the play calling and all that?
“He’s just one of those dudes (where) you want to get the ball in his hands. He’s special, fast player, getting smarter as he’s in this league longer. He’s explosive so, just finding ways to get him the ball, finding ways to get him more involved I think would be good for him, good for our offense.”

You got Dwayne (Washington) back at practice today. How big is that for your room and for special teams to finally get him back at practice?
“Man, it is good. That is my dog. So, (we) definitely missed him. He had to deal with the (COVID) protocol and stuff like that, but he’s back, he looked good, knocking some rust off a little bit. Big for special teams, he contributes there just as much as anybody and in in our room. When one of you guys is gone it’s kind of like, you look back and you’re looking at his seat like dang, man, I want Dwayne here. So, it’s good to have him back. Hopefully get everything cleaned up this week and be able to go out there on Monday and do what he’s got to do.”

It’s the first game in Las Vegas on Monday, primetime setting, kind of a historic event, just wondering if that has any meaning for you or you guys as the visiting team there?
“It’s a Monday night game, I guess. It’s a new stadium, but I play in New Orleans. So, I don’t really care about that. I’ve got an opponent to prepare for. I’m not really worried about the scenery or the venue.”

We’ve talked a lot about the COVID protocols throughout the year. But as a guy as a player, you guys have routines, going on the road with the new protocols, has that crossed your mind at all? Is that something you’re even worried about?
“Everybody has their routines, we go on the road, some guys like to go get dinner, some guys meet with their families, people come to the hotel, things like that. With the world we’re living in, with the climate we’re in, it’s just something that we can’t do right now. It’s an adjustment for everybody, coaches and everybody. So, we’ve just got to be disciplined in what the protocol asks and I think we’re doing a good job as a team of doing that. It’s a lot of veteran guys and we’ve got one goal in mind. To protect that goal, we have got to do what we have got to do. That means following the protocol.”

We always hear about how much of a three phase game it is, and you have been around this team long enough to have seen special teams play really well in a lot of games. How much of a pick me up is it when you see those guys do what they do? And I guess especially when they’re able to do it in a game like Sunday when it became so critical?
“Man, special teams I think is probably like, the most important part of the game. Those guys bring a lot of energy. It’s easy to fall asleep on that I think what other teams (treat it), but our guys take pride in it. They treat it, like, as an offensive play or a defensive play, it’s another play to help this team reach its goal. I think we feed off that, I’m locked into special teams like I am out there. It’s good to see them playing well and having fun out there.”

Just without the fans in there, does that enable you to kind of take advantage of some stuff that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise do like with the hard counts and stuff? I saw you hyped up after Drew Brees got that fourth down call.
“It was just in the midst of the game, just hype because we walk in the huddle in a situation like that and I was hyped because I knew we were going to get them to jump and it happened so I’m like, yeah. But I think it’s just weird because you can hear everything so it might affect the defense a little bit more because they’re so ready and they’re locked in because they feel like they can hear everything and once Drew gives that hard count, they’re ready to go.”

Does that make it tougher for you not to jump on the hard count and force you to be more disciplined?
“I don’t think so because we know what’s coming. We break the huddle and we’re like don’t move. I think it’s more so for the defense because they’re anticipating. Right when they feel like they can hear it so well that they like oh, let’s go. They flopped out.”

I might be reaching here, but with some of the stuff you did this offseason to remake your build now, it looked like you were really fast out there. Do you feel like you got any faster coming into the season?
“Yeah, I feel like I did. I think like I said, Sunday, I felt like it was a little slow, offensively, for me. But you’ve just got to stay locked in in the game and keep moving to do whatever we have got to do to win. I feel faster. I feel good. Same thing this offseason working with my trainers. Working with Sharif (Tabbah), with (Andreu) Swayey and just trying to keep (at my) craft and keep finding ways to get better. It’s paid off this year, every year and especially this year coming off an injury. I feel back to normal. I forgot what it felt like to play healthy (last season). So, (I’m) definitely excited about that moving forward.”

Any thoughts or surprise on seeing Drew Brees’ passing yardage relatively low in that game? If in addition to that, there’s a couple guys out that normally aren’t in the receiver core, what do you view as the team’s ability to adapt to that considering people like you and Jared (Cook) are also out there catching balls?
“I’m not worried about Drew’s passing. Like we’ve been saying, I think a couple people said it after the game, including Sean (Payton), including myself, I think we just had a slow offensive day just kind of working some of the kinks out, getting re-locked in on the details. It’s game one so those are when some of those mistakes happen, but thankfully we were able to win. We got it cleaned up and these guys stepping up, obviously, we’ve got new guys, we’ve got young guys, we got guys that are, yeah, like I said, new guys. They’re locked in, they know what’s going on, they know what they have to do, they’re focused, we’re focused on details, a lot of details this week, and they’ll will be ready to do what they’ve got to do. Step up and assist Drew. I’m not worried about his passing yards. He’s going to do what he has to do.”

New Orleans Saints Defensive End Cameron Jordan
Video Call
Thursday, September 17, 2020

I guess, maybe if you didn’t mind talking about, is there anything to playing the first game ever kind of, history in Las Vegas, first ever NFL game? Is that something you think about in any way or is it just another game?
“Just you know, it’s our next opponent. They’re next up, whether they’re you know, the first time we ever played, I guess, we don’t know which cleats to bring. So now we got to bring you know, our screw-ins, our moldeds and probably a turf? I don’t know what is out there. We haven’t got the report on how the field is working.”

I don’t know how much film study you’ve been able to do on Josh Jacobs. But if you have been able to, what have you seen about him that stands out?
“He is a hard runner. Look at the end of the day, we are focused on us and what we can do. And everything that our defense wants to do is, affect not only the quarterback but try and shut down the run. This goes into it. We know he had a phenomenal year here last year, so we know he can make elite cuts. And this is something that we’re aware of. Luckily, I think we’ve got a phenomenal backfield on our side. So we’re able to emulate and simulate what looks we might get.”

What have you guys been able to do so effectively to be able to put together that run defense streak?
“You know, just an awful lot of communication within our defense. It allows us to not only make adjustments, but to keep ourselves honest to each other. And that’s a, that goes from you know, the first man on the field to the 11th man on the field. We’re all just actively trying to get better each and every game. And I think we have a good starting point from this last game. We’ve got to keep on ascending.”

When you guys have a game, like Sunday, where so many guys on the defensive line get involved, I guess just what’s that film study like afterwards where everybody’s getting their name called and how do you carry, kind of, that momentum into the next week?
“This is week two we’re talking about. (Our) guys are chomping at the bit to get each and every win. To look over and see Trey Hendrickson playing the way he was playing. Carl Granderson, the way he played. To look, you know, see how the young fella, (Malcolm) Roach was out there playing. You know, you see how Malcom Brown played, Sheldon Rankins, David Onyemata. Like, everybody had their piece in it. I think you know, one of my most fun moments was looking over and watching David (Onyemata), thump (Rob) Gronkowski out in the corner area, flat area somewhere. When you have guys just humming as much as it is, it’s that much more easy to try and encourage and say, hey, this is the standard now. Let’s see if we can elevate our play.”

Just curious you know, obviously you don’t play the Raiders that much, what differences you might see in Derek Carr, in preparing for him this time around then you did maybe in 2016?
“Was that the last time we played them? I didn’t go that far back. Alright. No, I mean, it’s Derek Carr, you know, he’s able to take command of their offense. They have a great running back. They’ve added in a heck of a first rounder receiver from ‘Bama. So he’s got all types of speed to him. I keep calling (him other names), I’m not going to mess up. It’s (Henry) Ruggs. I know it’s (Henry) Ruggs this time because I got corrected. I was like, every time I look up, it’s another ‘Bama receiver with a lot of speed to him. It is (Henry) Ruggs. And he’s got, a lot of, a lot of speed. That being said, I think we have the corners to match up with anybody. So, I trust our secondary and I know we’re going to get after ‘em come Monday.”

Do you feel like a competition to get to the quarterback with all the depth you guys have in the defensive line? And how do you kind of view that?
“I like us. I mean, I said early on this year, I said, I think our D-Line could be special. This was what like, the first, the second week of camp. It seemed like everybody was humming, you have Trey (Hendrickson), healthy Marcus (Davenport), everything that was going for us. We looked over, you had (Sheldon) Rankins, David Onyemata competing, both Malcolms (Malcolm Roach, Malcom Brown) in the middle. I think I’m going to keep that one. But, just you know, the way our D-Line is progressing, we could be special. And I’m going to keep encouraging us to continue growing much like your (Luke Johnson’s) mustache, looking like Gardner Minshew’s.”

Do you feel like you get a better quality of snap when you’re playing around 85% as opposed to like the 95 that you used to do earlier in your career? It seems like your pressures per snap, sacks per snaps have gone up the last couple years as the overall total has gone down a little.

“Is that true? I do not know. I know when I touch the game, I want to play each and every snap. I’m going to leave Coach (Payton) to figure out the play count. If there’s 72 snaps, I want all 72 of them. I don’t know what I played last game. But I was like, I looked over, I was like, alright I’m going back in. At some point, you know, you realize you have so much talent, in our D- Line. There’s guys that are waiting to bite the bitten and get after it. We haven’t always been able to say that, but now we definitely can.”

I didn’t get a chance to ask you about this earlier in the week. But that play that caused kind of a stir on social media where it looks like you were trying to go punch the ball out. Can you explain kind of what was going through your head through that play and did you expect having to appeal fine about it. Just because of the camera angle?
“No, I think it was pretty self explanatory. Yeah, I mean, it was self explanatory, not from I guess the initial angle that every typical fan saw. But anybody who knows football, could see that the running back was still trying to move the pile. And we were, we were as a defense being aggressive and how we wanted to get the ball out. And we play snap to whistle. So until that whistle is blown, we’re still going full speed. So for every fan who wants to watch basketball, continue watching basketball, but if you’re here for a contact sport, hi, we play football. And our defense is rioty.”

I blame the NFL for not releasing all 22 till today or yesterday, because that was a very different angle. So really, it’s really just the league’s fault for not just putting all 22 out on Tuesday.

“Perception is key. But I do know this, when we’re trying to get the ball out you have to be aware that a sideline judge or referee might not see that angle. But, when you make connection with ball, that’s all I’m caring about. I am just trying to put ourselves in a better place to win. We got, at this point, it sort of makes sense, self explanatory. If you are talking about all 22, that’s a different angle from the opposite ends on side or whatever it is. Yeah, I already saw that and I’m you know, I would say that I love the intensity our defense played at.”

I was just trying to make the jab at the all 22 not being out.
“I mean, can we add in you know, also like when we have the surface and we’re able to watch actual game film like we did, what a preseason ago? Last preseason, we saw like actual film versus just the screenshots, but you know, we work with, what we work with. I’m not worried about perception. I’m worried about how we’re playing. And I think we like the pace that we’re going at.”

How much has Trey Hendrickson just, I know he had a pretty good year last year, but how much has he improved since really like you first brought him in? I mean, Marcus (Davenport) being out, it didn’t seem like you missed much of a step with Trey in there.
“Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve said that last year. I mean, Trey (Hendrickson) has really come on strong the last two years. And now you know, he came out this game and had a heck of a game. It’s great for him to finally get some of the recognition that he so rightfully deserves. And I think you know, he’s still got a lot more in his bag. So, as long as we continue eating as a defense, I’m loving the way he’s playing. We have to continue excelling.”

They took away the film on the sidelines? You guys just get still shots now?
“It was like a preseason thing like one game last year, two years ago. It actually showed the actual play versus the still shots. And then by season they you know, they’d already took it down, maybe by like second preseason game, whatever it was. It was just you know, when you’re able to see the whole screen instead of just a shot, it’s a game changer, but that’s probably why it was taken away.”

With COVID-19. Can you still do like your chicken wing day? Or can you not do that anymore?
“I plead the fifth. I don’t know what the bubble does or does not allow to happen.”

Okay, then I’ll reword my question. So when you are going to Vegas, it’s the first road game of the season. You are going to be contained in the bubble. You can’t go out for dinner or spend time with family, that type of thing. How big of an adjustment is that going to be?
“Is that true? At the end of the day, we’re here for a business trip. When we get down to Vegas we’re going to be looking to play the Raiders. We know that they have, you know, a lot of weapons that they can use, with (Darren) Waller, to (Henry) Ruggs, to the running back, to the quarterback. They’ve got a 500 pound offensive lineman over there. At some point, we get down to Monday night, we’re here to play football. It doesn’t matter if there’s four fans in the stands or five. At this point because we know there’s no fans, are allowed in. But we do know that wherever we go, we still got, you know, us. We have our teammates, we have our guys that will be in the stands behind us with the inactives. And we know that we’re on the same mindset. So it’s a business trip. I don’t care if I don’t leave the room. I’m here to win a football game. But yes, I will miss walking to a mall or something along the lines as I’ve always done. I’m sorry. I get anxious, I have energy to spend.”

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…

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