Saints look for depth

Published 7:50 pm Thursday, December 27, 2007

The New Orleans Saints running game could be in the hands of a rookie and two newcomers when they play their season finale at Chicago on Sunday.

Neither Reggie Bush (torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee) nor Aaron Stecker (turf toe) practiced Wednesday and it’s uncertain if either will be available for the game, a must-win for the Saints which are seeking the final NFC wild-card slot.

To advance to the playoffs, the Saints must beat the Bears, then hope that Minnesota (8-7) falls at Denver and that Washington (8-7) loses to visiting Dallas.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With Bush and Stecker questionable, that leaves an undrafted rookie, Pierre Thomas, and two players signed this week — Chris Barclay and Artose Pinner — as the team’s only healthy halfbacks.

Deuce McAllister was placed on injured reserve after injuring his knee in the third game of the season, and reserve Jamaal Branch joined him after fracturing his right leg against Philadelphia last week.

The Saints claimed Barclay off waivers from Tennessee and signed Pinner, who spent the first 14 weeks with Atlanta before being released, in case Stecker and/or Bush is unavailable Sunday. Both could be game-time decisions.

“In the meantime, we have to develop and train these other guys,” coach Sean Payton said after practice Wednesday about Barclay and Pinner. “I’m optimistic about Aaron, and Pierre has handled this real well. We’ll see where Reggie’s at and we’ll have to make adjustments.”

Bush, who has missed the last three games, said he believes he has a better chance of playing this week than he did last week, even though he wasn’t ruled out for the Philadelphia game until pregame warm-ups.

“It’s getting better,” Bush said of the injury. “You have to look at the risk-reward ratio. It will be a mutual decision by me, the coaching staff and the trainers.”

Stecker, who suffered the toe injury during the first half of the Eagles’ game but returned, was walking very gingerly in the locker room Wednesday.

“It’s stiff, and nice and sore,” Stecker said. “I’ve been a good healer in the past. It’s a lot better than it was Monday. If it continues to progress like that, I’ll think I’ll be OK.”

Thomas is a native of suburban Chicago who played at the University of Illinois.

“This is a very big shot,” said Thomas, who spent Christmas with his family in Chicago. “I’ve just been blessed throughout my first year. I’m trying to study and learn the game at this level so fast.”

So far this season, Thomas has 30 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown.

“I think he is going to be fine — this is his kind of football game,” quarterback Drew Brees said of Thomas. “It’s two hours from where he played college football and he’s used to (the) conditions and will probably have a lot of people there that will be excited to watch him play.”