METAIRIE, La. -- The media got its first glimpse of the New Orleans Saints' full squad on the practice field during Thursday's OTA session. The biggest news was the absence of safety Jairus Byrd, who is undergoing back surgery that is expected to have him back at full speed in time for training camp.
I'll have more to come later this afternoon after we speak with players in the locker room. For now, here are quick observations from practice:
Welcome back: On a more positive injury note, cornerback Patrick Robinson and linebacker Victor Butler were back at full speed after missing all of last season with knee injuries. And safety Kenny Vaccaro was full speed after ending last season on injured reserve with a fractured ankle.
Robinson actually lined up with the first-string defense throughout practice, while corners Champ Bailey and Corey White lined up with the second string. It's far too early to read anything into the depth chart -- especially as it pertains to Bailey, since newcomers often line up with the second string while the playbook is being installed.
However, that's another great sign of the Saints' faith in Robinson, who struggled in 2012 before being injured in 2013. Both coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan spoke highly of Robinson's skill set and how his offseason has been going. Don't count him out in the crowded battle for that No. 2 cornerback job.
Welcome, Bailey: Speaking of Bailey, he made his presence felt by forcing a turnover during team drills late in practice. He broke up a pass intended for receiver Kenny Stills, popping the ball into the air, where it was intercepted by linebacker Kyle Knox.
Looking good: The defense had a few highlights during the practices that don't involve pads or live contact. Defensive end Akiem Hicks batted down a pass from Drew Brees on the first play of team drills. Safety Rafael Bush and cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste also forced fumbles by stripping receivers Marques Colston and Andy Tanner, respectively.
Knox also leaped high in the air to bat down a pass at one point, showing nifty athleticism. Knox is a second-year pro who spent time with the Saints last season on special teams and on the practice squad. He's an athletic outside linebacker who also shouldn't be forgotten in the battle for backup roster spots along with more highly-touted draft picks like Rufus Johnson, Khairi Fortt and Ronald Powell.
As for the offense, quarterback Ryan Griffin threw a couple of nice darts that stood out.
Depth-chart notes: Other than Robinson, there weren't any surprises with the players lining up on the starting units. Ramon Humber took snaps at outside linebacker with the first string, rotating with Parys Haralson, while the Saints lined up in mostly 3-4 defensive alignments.
Noteworthy among the backup rotation: The second-string line was Bryce Harris at left tackle, Senio Kelemete at left guard, rookie Matt Armstrong at center, Marcel Jones at right guard and Ty Nsekhe at right tackle. Rookie Tavon Rooks worked with the third string at left tackle. Mike Golic Jr. worked as the third-string center.
Sitting out: Receiver Joe Morgan was held out of practice while recovering from his own knee injury. Defensive linemen John Jenkins, Tyrunn Walker and Moses McCray, outside linebacker Cheta Ozougwu, and receiver Steve Hull were also held out for undisclosed reasons. Guard Ben Grubbs was limited during practice for an undisclosed reason.
As expected, tight end Jimmy Graham and receiver Brandin Cooks were not in attendance Thursday. Graham is still unsigned, while Cooks is not allowed to participate until his college semester comes to an end since Oregon State is on a quarters system.