New Orleans Saints: Khiry Robinson

Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. Send them anytime @MikeTriplett.

@MikeTriplett: I wrote about this a little bit on Friday as well, but I know it will become a big fantasy football topic heading into the season now that the Saints have to replace tight end Jimmy Graham in their offense.

For now, I'm preaching caution when it comes to expectations for third-year tight end Josh Hill. Yes, the former undrafted free agent caught five touchdown passes last year - but he caught only 14 passes all season as the No. 3 tight end behind Benjamin Watson. And he wasn't especially used as a red-zone target.

Coach Sean Payton speaks very highly of Hill. But one of the things he loves about him is his versatility as an athletic tight end who is also a core special-teams player (and even a fullback on occasions). Payton's quote on Hill after last season was, "When you get a tight end that potentially is going to be your special-teams player of the year, that's a good thing. It's not the norm. ... He's exactly what we're looking for, because each week you know exactly what you're gonna get. He's talented, he can run, he's young. But he's consistent, and those are the things that allow you to win."

So Hill's role should increase, and he could indeed be fantasy-relevant. But don't expect him to fill the "Jimmy Graham role" in this offense. I'll take the under on 10 touchdowns.


@MikeTriplett: My best projection is about $2.7 million if New Orleans keeps all of its current picks, based on estimates provided by overthecap.com for each draft slot - but I can't say that for certain.

Remember, only the top 51 salary-cap costs for each team are counted, so the Saints won't have to add all nine draft picks onto their books. I figure the Saints' top five draft picks will rank among their top 51 cap costs - and those five will replace five minimum-salary players who are already counting.

As of Friday, the Saints were about $1.75 million under the cap before they re-signed backup offensive tackle Bryce Harris (who shouldn't add too much since he'll also be replacing a minimum-salary player). But the Saints will have to carve out a little extra space before they sign their draft picks.


@MikeTriplett: That's the beauty of having more early picks (and the "beauty" of having so many needs): The Saints don't have to force themselves to reach to fill any specific need at any point.

I think pass-rusher is a must with at least one of the Saints' top picks. I also think they should land a guard at some point in the first three rounds, if not with the 13th pick. Then I'd rank inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver in the next tier of possibilities.

And as I mentioned in my video outlook this past week, there's even the wild-card scenario that the Saints would consider a quarterback to develop behind Drew Brees - maybe even a trade up for Marcus Mariota. I don't think that's likely - or that it was the secret end game behind all of these offseason moves. But the Saints are now poised to consider several possibilities.


@MikeTriplett: Poor Khiry Robinson. A year ago, it looked like the former undrafted running back might be on the verge of a breakout season, with the chance to take over as New Orleans' No. 1 back in 2015 if Mark Ingram left via free agency.

Instead, Robinson is now third on the depth chart after New Orleans invested heavily in Ingram and C.J. Spiller this offseason.

I still think the Saints are high on Robinson's potential. He should get some occasional touches as a change-of-pace back. And with the way injuries pile up at running back, there could be times when he's needed in more of a featured role.

The best-case scenario would be something like the way Mike Bell was used in 2009, but that was more of an equal time-share with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. I think this will be more of an Ingram No. 1/Robinson No. 2 situation.

METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have proven they're willing to trade just about everyone as they aggressively reshape their roster. But there's a difference between “considering all options” and “actively trying to dump players.” Some players are still vital to the cause going forward.

This is the last in a five-part series highlighting the most valuable players remaining on the roster -- and attempting to rate their job security.

YOUNG RISERS:

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Josh Hill
Matt Marton-USA TODAY SportsJosh Hill (89) only had 14 catches for 176 yards last season, but five of those catches were for touchdowns.

TE Josh Hill -- Saints coach Sean Payton raved about the third-year pro at the end of last season as “exactly what we're looking for” because he brings so much value as both a backup tight end and a core special teams player. And now Hill has become even more valuable to the offense after the Saints traded away Jimmy Graham.

Though Hill will generate a lot of fantasy buzz since he caught five touchdown passes in a limited role last year, I'm not ready to predict a major breakout just yet. The former undrafted free agent from Idaho State caught only 14 passes total for 176 yards last season while averaging 17 snaps per game.

So I don't expect Hill to slide directly into Graham's old spot -- I think it will be more of a committee approach. But he's definitely a young, valued player on the rise.

WRs Brandon Coleman, Seantavius Jones -- I think the Saints are also high on the potential of their two undrafted rookie receivers from last year who spent most of the season on the practice squad -- which may be part of the reason why Kenny Stills was deemed expendable before his trade to the Miami Dolphins.

It's too early to project whether either guy will have a path to significant playing time, since they're still behind Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Nick Toon, and the Saints could wind up using one of their early draft picks on a receiver. But their progress will be an intriguing summer storyline.

G Tim Lelito -- Yet another former undrafted free agent, Lelito couldn't lock down the vacant starting center job last year when the Saints brought in veteran Jonathan Goodwin late in the summer. But now the third-year pro has another chance with the left guard spot open after the Saints traded away Ben Grubbs.

Lelito played well in spurts last year as an injury replacement for Goodwin and might be even better suited for the guard spot. At the very least, he's a good, reliable option as the top “swing” backup at both spots.

RB Khiry Robinson -- A year ago, Robinson would have topped this list when it appeared that the Saints were extremely high on his potential as yet another undrafted free-agent gem. And I still believe the Saints are high on that potential. But Robinson missed much of last season with a broken arm. And now his path to playing time is a lot more crowded since the Saints just invested $4 million per year to re-sign Mark Ingram and another $4 million per year to add C.J. Spiller.

With so many injuries at running back, Robinson will probably have opportunities to shine this year, but they'll be limited when everyone is healthy.

Others -- Third-year nose tackle John Jenkins (an actual draft pick) might belong in this category, but he underachieved a bit last year after an impressive rookie season. So while he has as much potential as anyone on this list, he needs to exploit it even more this year.

Safety Pierre Warren only partly qualifies among the Saints' long list of undrafted gems, since they actually let him go last fall before re-signing him later off the Minnesota Vikings practice squad. Warren may have earned his way onto this list because of his strong play last year when New Orleans thrust him into the starting lineup because of a rash of injuries. However, the safety position is now a lot more crowded with guys like Jairus Byrd, Rafael Bush and Vinnie Sunseri coming back from those injuries.

The jury is still out on other rookies from last season like Sunseri and linebackers Kasim Edebali and Ronald Powell, who played sparingly.

PREVIOUS ENTRIES IN SERIES:

Shocking if they get traded

Wild cards

Vital if they stay

Oldies but goodies

A position-by-position look at where the New Orleans Saints stand heading into the 2015 offseason, ranked from 1-12 in order of the team’s need for upgrades or replacements.

Current depth chart:

Mark Ingram. Age 25, unrestricted free agent.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsMark Ingram had his most productive NFL season in 2014, reaching career highs in yards (964) and touchdowns (9).
Pierre Thomas. Age 30, signed through 2016. 2015 salary and bonuses: $2.15 million. 2015 salary-cap number: $2.565 million.

Khiry Robinson. Age 25, scheduled to become restricted free agent in 2016. 2015 salary and bonuses: $585,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $585,334.

Travaris Cadet. Age 25, restricted free agent.

Tim Hightower. Age 28, signed through 2015. 2015 salary $745,000 (bonuses and cap figure unknown).

Edwin Baker. Age 23, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2016. 2015 salary: $585,000. 2015 salary-cap number: unverified, but likely $585,000.

FB Erik Lorig. Age 28, signed through 2017. 2015 salary and bonuses: $800,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $1.05 million.

FB Austin Johnson. Age 25, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2016. 2015 salary and bonuses: $510,000. 2015 salary-cap number: $510,000.

FB Toben Opurum. Age 24, scheduled to become exclusive rights free agent in 2016. 2015 salary: $435,000. 2014 salary-cap number: unverified, but likely $435,000.

Analysis:

This position, which has been so overcrowded for so many years, could suddenly look very thin if the Saints lose Ingram in free agency. And there’s a very strong chance of that happening, either because another team outbids New Orleans or because Ingram himself will want a shot at more of a featured role elsewhere.

That would be a shame since Ingram finally delivered on his potential in 2014 when he had the opportunity to be used in that type of featured role with the Saints due to injuries to other players. Ingram probably opened the Saints’ eyes a bit to the idea of using him that way instead of going with a running back by committee -- but that might be a moot point if Ingram also opened up the eyes of other potential suitors with deeper pockets.

I still ranked this among the Saints’ lower offseason priorities, though, because I’d be shocked to see them use a first-round draft pick or spend heavily in free agency on any newcomers -- and I can’t say that about any other positions higher on this list.

If the Saints lose Ingram, both Thomas and Robinson have shown the ability to step up into bigger roles when needed. The Saints were primed to increase Robinson’s workload this past year before his season got derailed by a fractured arm. They also took a flier on Hightower, who hasn't played since 2011 because of injuries. New Orleans would likely consider drafting someone in the middle or late rounds to develop behind those two, though.

ESPN scouting insider Matt Williamson’s take:

“I’ve always been an Ingram fan. I thought he entered the league injured. He’s never been healthy before, what, midway through last year? You know, he’s not Adrian Peterson, but he runs hard and he’s low and he’s physical. He can really do damage, considering the passing game is strong. And I think [coach Sean] Payton deep down wants to be a power running team, so you need a big back. I think they would love to get Ingram back, but I don’t know if I’d want to be back if I were him.

“I think Thomas had a really good year, as usual. You’d love to have him on your football team. He does everything. He isn’t the No. 1, but he’s versatile and he can help you in a lot of ways. We didn’t see a ton of Robinson, but I’ve been impressed when I do see him. I wouldn’t say he’s a franchise back or a foundation back, but if you gave him 100 more carries, I bet he’d be OK. I also kind of like Cadet. I think Cadet has a role, too. He’s not Sproles, but he’s in that role.”

Previous rankings:

No. 12: Specialists

No. 11: Quarterback

No. 10: Tight end
A look at the New Orleans Saints' offensive snap counts in 2014, per ESPN Stats and Information:

Quarterback: Drew Brees 1,094

Running back: Mark Ingram 458, Pierre Thomas 284, Travaris Cadet 195, Khiry Robinson 148, Edwin Baker 3, Brian Leonard 1

Fullback: Erik Lorig 152, Austin Johnson 104

Receiver: Marques Colston 841, Kenny Stills 598, Brandin Cooks 506, Robert Meachem 240, Nick Toon 232, Joe Morgan 132, Jalen Saunders 1

Tight end: Jimmy Graham 744, Benjamin Watson 545, Josh Hill 274

Offensive tackle: Zach Strief 1,018, Terron Armstead 798, Bryce Harris 375

Guard: Jahri Evans 1,094, Ben Grubbs 1,087, Senio Kelemete 7

Center: Jonathan Goodwin 821, Tim Lelito 274

Thoughts:
  • Brees didn’t miss a snap, despite the oblique strain that sidelined him for two weeks during training camp, and he has still never missed a game due to injury in his 14-year career. … Evans was the only other player to play every snap this season, though fellow guard Ben Grubbs came awfully close.
  • Seeing rookie receiver Brandin Cooks’ name on this list was a reminder of what a loss he was when he suffered a season-ending thumb injury in Week 10 -- just as he was starting to come on strong as a deep receiver. His return will be among the top reasons for excitement this offseason.
  • Robinson’s season was also derailed by his arm injury, which prevented him from making a strong case to replace free agent Mark Ingram as the Saints’ leading man in 2015. Robinson has shown great glimpses in small doses. It will be interesting to see if the Saints feel the need to invest in Ingram's return or let Robinson be a leading part of a committee approach.
  • Goodwin wasn’t showing his age early in the season, but his consistency dipped after he battled a variety of nagging injuries. He’s an unrestricted free agent, so it will be interesting to see if he or the Saints are ready to move on -- especially since Lelito seemed to play well when he started in Goodwin’s place. The Saints need to start developing more young talent throughout the offensive line.
  • Speaking of which, losing Armstead to a neck injury in Week 15 proved very costly as replacement Bryce Harris struggled in his place. Armstead’s continued development is yet another reason for optimism going forward.
  • Fullback Austin Johnson took over for injured veteran Erik Lorig during the preseason. Then Lorig took the job back when Johnson was injured in Week 7. That should be a wide-open battle this summer.
A look at the New Orleans Saints' snap counts in their 31-15 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 15:

OFFENSE (68 snaps)

Quarterback – Drew Brees 68
Running back – Pierre Thomas 31, Mark Ingram 29, Khiry Robinson 8, Travaris Cadet 2
Fullback – Erik Lorig 23
Receiver – Marques Colston 52, Kenny Stills 43, Nick Toon 37, Robert Meachem 13
Tight end – Jimmy Graham 44, Benjamin Watson 42, Josh Hill 15
Offensive tackle – Zach Strief 68, Bryce Harris 55, Terron Armstead 13
Guard – Jahri Evans 68, Ben Grubbs 62, Senio Kelemete 6
Center – Jonathan Goodwin 68
Safety (on kneeldown) – Kenny Vaccaro 1

Thoughts:
  • Thomas wound up playing two more snaps than Ingram since the Saints were surprisingly having much more success throwing the ball than running it (they got lucky with the weather conditions). And as he always does, Thomas delivered big in his hometown of Chicago. Thomas' two huge gains on screen passes (39 and 31 yards) helped jump-start the Saints’ offense when it was struggling early. He now has 318 receiving yards, 239 rushing yards and five touchdowns in four career games at Chicago.
  • Robinson, meanwhile, was way behind in the pecking order with just three carries for 10 yards. His touches could pick up some if the Saints run more on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, and as he continues to recover from arm surgery. But this clearly isn’t an equal timeshare right now.
  • Left tackle Armstead left the game early again with a recurring neck injury (the severity is unknown). Harris fared better as a backup than in his absence this time than a week ago. Harris said it helped to get in the game early when the Saints were still using their entire playbook -- as opposed to last week when he was getting beat up while the Saints were in obvious-passing mode in a blowout loss to Carolina.
  • The Saints went with Meachem as their fourth receiver instead of newly-promoted rookie Seantavius Jones, who was inactive.
DEFENSE (60 snaps)

Cornerback – Terrence Frederick 60, Keenan Lewis 57, Patrick Robinson 16, Brian Dixon 3
Safety – Pierre Warren 60, Vaccaro 42, Jamarca Sanford 36, Marcus Ball 15
Outside linebacker – Ramon Humber 36, Junior Galette 27, Parys Haralson 21, Kasim Edebali 12
Inside linebacker – Curtis Lofton 52, David Hawthorne 52
Defensive end – Cameron Jordan 58, Akiem Hicks 41, Tyrunn Walker 11
Defensive tackle – John Jenkins 37, Brandon Deaderick 24

Thoughts:
  • Vaccaro was indeed demoted but still wound up playing 70 percent of the defensive snaps since he was playing in nickel packages. He also temporarily replaced Jamarca Sanford in the starting lineup after an injury. He also played a lot on special teams.
  • Galette was limited to 27 snaps -- almost exclusively being used as a pass rusher while admittedly being less than 100 percent in his recovery from a knee injury. He still made a big impact with two sacks.
  • Humber played the most of any outside linebacker. I'm not sure if that was out of necessity with Galette injured, or if the Saints wanted to get back to playing more of a true 3-4 base defense –--especially against the run.
  • It was crazy to see Frederick and Warren as the only two players that played every snap on defense. A month ago, neither had played a single snap for the Saints all season. ... Meanwhile, former starter Corey White was left inactive for the first time all season.
A look at the New Orleans Saints’ snap counts in their 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 14:

OFFENSE (70 snaps)
Quarterback – Drew Brees 70
Running back – Pierre Thomas 35, Travaris Cadet 17, Mark Ingram 16, Khiry Robinson 2
Fullback – Erik Lorig 8
Receiver – Marques Colston 62, Kenny Stills 50, Joe Morgan 36, Nick Toon 33
Tight end – Jimmy Graham 54, Benjamin Watson 28, Josh Hill 9
Offensive tackle – Zach Strief 70, Bryce Harris 55, Terron Armstead 15
Guard – Jahri Evans 70, Ben Grubbs 70
Center – Jonathan Goodwin 61, Tim Lelito 9

Thoughts:
  • Coach Sean Payton said Robinson was available. But the plan was to use him to spell Ingram -- and there didn’t wind up being enough carries to go around. “Unfortunately we didn’t get that opportunity where Mark was looking to the sidelines saying, ‘I need a break,’” Payton said.
  • Payton said he considered pulling Brees late in the blowout. Instead, he kept him in with a quick-tempo offense featuring screens and draw plays, etc. And he said he emphasized that Brees had to get the ball out. “I certainly didn’t want him getting hit,” Payton said.
  • Payton also revealed that Harris was playing through an ankle injury after he replaced Armstead (neck) -- partly because the Saints didn’t have any good options left on the bench. Harris got steamrolled at least once. But Payton said he was proud of him. “There’s a good portion of that fourth quarter that he stays in there and guts it up and continues to play,” Payton said. “That was pretty impressive.”
  • Goodwin left the game late but said Monday that he just got kicked in the knee. … Toon left early with an undisclosed injury, and his status is unknown.
DEFENSE (74 snaps)
Cornerback – Patrick Robinson 71, Keenan Lewis 48, Corey White 38, Brian Dixon 25
Safety – Pierre Warren 72, Kenny Vaccaro 68, Jamarca Sanford 7, Marcus Ball 4
Outside linebacker – Junior Galette 36, Parys Haralson 35, Kasim Edebali 32
Inside linebacker – Curtis Lofton 74, David Hawthorne 73, Ramon Humber 12, Ronald Powell 2
Defensive end – Cameron Jordan 68, Akiem Hicks 59, Tyrunn Walker 11
Defensive tackle – John Jenkins 52, Brandon Deaderick 27

Thoughts: Galette tried to get back in the game with a leg injury, but he was still hobbling in the third quarter and didn’t appear to return again after that. … Lewis left in the third quarter with what was announced as cramps. He did not return. … Vaccaro left the game late and was spotted talking with trainers. He said Monday that he’s fine and it was just a precaution. … Kudos to Lofton, the only one who played every snap and finished with 17 tackles.
METAIRIE, La. -- Lost in the aftermath of the New Orleans Saints' dreadful 41-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday were a handful of injuries to key players during the game.

Lewis
Cornerback Keenan Lewis (cramps), outside linebacker Junior Galette (leg), left tackle Terron Armstead (neck), center Jonathan Goodwin (leg) and receiver Nick Toon (unknown) all left the game at some point.

Goodwin said Monday morning that he'll be alright and just got kicked in the knee. We might not get any other updates on the injuries until the Saints return to practice on Thursday. But there is reason to hope that most of them are minor.

Galette returned to the game briefly in the third quarter, but he was noticeably hobbling down the field after running back Fozzy Whittaker during his 26-yard touchdown reception. And it didn’t appear as though Galette played again after that.

Lewis also did not appear to return after heading into the locker room in the third quarter, but if it was indeed just a cramping issue, he should be back for next Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Armstead did not appear to play in the second half after he left the game early in the first half. But he was still suited up on the bench in the second half.

Meanwhile, running back Khiry Robinson played in only two offensive snaps in his return from an arm injury with no touches. It’s likely that Robinson would have seen more action if the game had played out differently. But their running backs only ran the ball 16 times in the blowout loss.
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson are both listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.

Ingram
Ingram remained limited during team drills in practice Friday with ankle and toe injuries. But the "probable" designation is the latest sign that he should be able to play without restrictions.

Though he was limited, Ingram practiced all week. And he wasn’t limited by the injuries during last Sunday’s 35-32 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which he ran for 122 yards on 23 carries.

Robinson (arm), running back Travaris Cadet (hamstring), and linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) were all listed as probable after practicing fully Friday. Coach Sean Payton said this week that he would pay attention to Robinson's snaps since the running back is coming off of an arm injury that sidelined him for six games. But based on Robinson's workload in practice, he should also be close to full-go.
METAIRIE, La. -- Running back Khiry Robinson returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. And both he and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton indicated that Robinson is expected to play Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Obviously the great curiosity is how much.

Robinson
Robinson
And specifically -- how much Robinson will cut into Mark Ingram's workload. Ingram thrived in a featured role while Robinson missed six games with a forearm injury, with four 100-yard games during that span -- including 122 yards on 23 carries last week at Pittsburgh.

"There's two things," Payton said when asked about Robinson's expected workload. "With regards to the first game a player's back, you have to look closely at how many snaps. But I don't envision it really changing what Mark's been able to do, and I think that there will be enough carries in the game and we'll be smart about it.

"Obviously with Pierre (Thomas back the past two weeks as well), it's helped us with some third downs, and he gave us some real good snaps just in the base last week. So we'll put together a plan we think suits those guys well."

Payton confirmed Wednesday that Robinson had surgery on the forearm, which is why it took so long for him to return to the lineup. For this week, at least, it seems safe to assume that Ingram will still get a heavy dose of the carries as Robinson gets re-acclimated (even though Ingram also appeared as limited on the injury report with new ankle and toe injuries).

Going forward, though, the roles are harder to predict. There's no obvious formula for how to split the carries.

Ingram has clearly been on a roll -- helping to prove the theory that running backs do better with more carries because they can get in a rhythm. But Robinson himself was thriving earlier in the year when Ingram was out with a hand injury of his own. Robinson, who has 330 yards on 64 carries, is actually averaging more yards per carry this year than Ingram (5.2 to 4.5). Robinson would rank third among all NFL running backs in that category if he had enough carries.

Robinson insisted that he's not looking at it as a competition between the two, though.

"I know it's a battle because it's your job. But at the same time, we all encourage each other," Robinson said. "All our relationship is all together as one. It's not like one vs. the other or he's doing good and I'm like, ‘Oh man.' It's nothing like that. I feel like we're all one when it comes to the running backs."

Ingram agreed, saying, "I just do what I do when my number's called. … It's definitely nothing but a positive to have everybody back."

The most encouraging part of all, Robinson said, is that the run game has consistently thrived all year no matter who has carried the ball. The Saints are counting on the run game more than ever -- which means more opportunities for all of the backs.

"Most definitely," Robinson said. "I mean, last year toward the end of the year, that's when we really got it kicking. But it feels good, especially when you're a running back and knowing we're getting productive. That's more carries for everybody, not just one or two people. It feels good to know they can depend on us and depend on the rushing."

Robinson said he didn't get frustrated while he was out, because he believes "everything happens for a reason."

He said at first he thought he might be able to avoid surgery. But then they decided to "do it the right way."

"I had a little boo boo. I got it fixed. So now I'm back on the field," Robinson said. "I was just making sure I was healthy, man. You know, I didn't want to hop out there and get re-injured. So I think it's perfect timing."

With Robinson back, everyone on the Saints' active roster practiced Wednesday. Running back Travaris Cadet (hamstring) and linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) were also limited.
PITTSBURGH -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton revealed that running back Khiry Robinson is expected to return from an arm injury next week against the Carolina Panthers while denouncing a report that the Saints had shown any interest in reinstated running back Ray Rice.

Robinson
Robinson
“We like our running back depth,” Payton said. “And if you do a little research, Khiry’s coming back next week.”

Robinson has missed the past six games with an unspecified arm injury. He hasn’t returned to the practice field yet but hinted on Twitter that he was close to a return. And he was seen in the locker room without a brace on the arm.

Chances are, the Saints will ease Robinson back into the mix -- especially since Mark Ingram has done so well in a leading role and since Pierre Thomas returned from his own shoulder and rib injuries last week.

Ingram ran the ball 23 times for 122 yards in Sunday’s 35-32 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers -- his fourth 100-yard game during Robinson’s absence. Thomas, meanwhile, had three carries for 21 yards and two catches for 16 yards in the victory.

But it will be interesting to see how the Saints divvy up the touches once Robinson is back to full speed.

Robinson was running extremely well before he was hurt. Robinson gained a total of 245 rushing yards in a three-game span from Weeks 3-5 while Ingram was out with his own hand injury -- including a game-winning 18-yard touchdown run in overtime against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 5.

Robinson’s 5.2 yards per carry would rank second among all NFL running backs if he had enough carries to be eligible. Ingram’s 4.5 yards per carry are tied for 10th among qualifying NFL running backs.

In other words, Robinson’s return will be a “good problem” for the Saints but a possible headache for fantasy owners.

Saints mailbag: Where is Joe Morgan?

November, 29, 2014
11/29/14
8:00
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Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. Send them anytime @MikeTriplett.

@MikeTriplett: Joe Morgan's lack of playing time was even more puzzling than usual last week. Not only were the Saints missing fellow big-play threats Brandin Cooks and Robert Meachem because of injuries, but Morgan started the game with a 67-yard run and 62-yard catch in the first quarter. Yet he still only played 18 total snaps and never touched the ball again.

I have to think there are some intangible football-related reasons for Morgan's lack of snaps - whether that's route-running or blocking, etc. Because as coach Sean Payton said when asked about Morgan earlier this year, "We would put him in if we felt [he would help]. We're trying to play the best guys." I don't think it's related to Morgan's recent disciplinary suspension, for the same reason. Now that he's back on the roster, the Saints will use him if they think he's their best option.

Payton hasn't ever specified any area where he believes Morgan is lacking. He gave a clinical explanation this week for why Nick Toon (who played 44 snaps) played so much more than Morgan last Sunday, explaining that Toon plays more at the "X" position, while Morgan and starter Kenny Stills both play the "Y."

And when I asked Payton if it was part of the game plan to just use Morgan early, then go away from him, Payton said no. He explained that the first end-around run was clearly part of the Saints' script of the first 15 plays, but after that, touches are less predictable.

"No, listen, he was very much part of (the game plan) and a part of it as far as the balance of the game," Payton explained. "You look to get certain touches and we feel like, obviously in the second play of the game we knew scripted going in it was going to be a reverse. So how that unfolds, that same thing comes up sometimes with Jimmy [Graham] or [Marques] Colston."

But if the Saints used Morgan so little under Monday's circumstances, I have to wonder if he'll play even less now that Meachem is coming back from his ankle injury. Meachem and Morgan play a similar position, and the Saints have preferred Meachem over Morgan all season.


@MikeTriplett: It's definitely unusual (Baltimore and Pittsburgh coming off byes, Cincinnati and Chicago coming off Thursday games). And it especially stands out this week, since the Saints are even further hamstrung coming off of a Monday night game. But I'm gonna chalk this one up more to coincidence than conspiracy. Scheduling is an elaborate process, and remember, it works both ways (the Saints had extra rest when they played Detroit and San Francisco).

The Saints don't seem as worked up by it as they did when they had to play a Sunday night game before their Thursday game earlier this year.

"You really can't control it," said Payton, who was asked about it twice this week. "Each year's different. Sometimes you may go a season without playing someone coming off a bye. I don't think we can control it, so we really don't discuss it much."


@MikeTriplett: That's a great question. Earlier this year, I would have guessed the Saints would be content to head into next year with a backfield made up of Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet and some undrafted rookie gem that they're sure to find. Remember, Robinson was looking great as the Saints' main back for a couple weeks when Mark Ingram was out with a hand injury.

But now Robinson's about to miss his sixth game with an arm injury of his own, and Ingram has thrived during most of his absence. So it's really hard to predict how the Saints will evaluate their backfield this offseason.

It might depend on how much it costs to keep Ingram. But I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the Saints let Ingram go if his price tag gets too high and go with the depth instead, led by Robinson.


@MikeTriplett: That's a completely fair question, especially when you consider that Tim Lelito's two starts at center came in the Saints' best two performances of the year - vs. Green Bay and at Carolina.

I wouldn't say that Jonathan Goodwin has been struggling all year - even when he was battling some of those early injuries. Through the first seven games, I think he was playing very solid. But I think he's had his two roughest games in the past two weeks - really, you could say that for the entire offensive line. Ultimately, though, I'll steal Payton's line. They'd put him in there if they felt that way.

 
METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints running back Khiry Robinson didn't participate in full-team drills during Wednesday's light walk-through practice, according to the team's injury report. So it remains unclear if he was referencing his health when he tweeted, "Yeeeaah! Back in action!"

We should get a better feel for the Saints' injury report Thursday and Friday since their walk-through was closed to the media on Wednesday. The Saints didn't hold a regular full practice to aid their recovery coming off of a Monday night game.

As expected, defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley (quadricep) did not practice, though the Saints didn't say yet whether he will be placed on injured reserve. Linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) also did not participate in team drills.

Cornerback Keenan Lewis (knee), linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle), guard Ben Grubbs (neck) and center Jonathan Goodwin (toe) were limited.

Lewis admitted he was "a little winded" while playing every snap last week against the Baltimore Ravens. But he said he feels like it helped him get his "cardio back" and feels now like, "I'm back to my form."

Receiver Robert Meachem (ankle) returned to full participation Wednesday after missing the past two games. Running backs Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadet also practiced fully.
Thanks for submitting your New Orleans Saints questions to me on Twitter. Send them anytime @MikeTriplett.

@MikeTriplett: First of all, I still can't say with 100 percent certainty that Pierre Thomas will play Monday night - or whether or not he'll be limited. But if we're talking about the next few weeks in general, I think Mark Ingram will continue to get the lion's share of the rushes and goal-line touches. So maybe something like 4-5 carries per game for Thomas, plus a healthy dose of receptions? Thomas will likely cut even more into Travaris Cadet 's workload.

The bigger question is what will happen if/when Khiry Robinson comes back from his arm injury. That's tougher to predict since Robinson plays a similar role as Ingram and because Robinson was also thriving when he was in the lineup. We still don't have a good timetable on Robinson's recovery, though he must have either suffered a setback or opted for surgery, since he seemed closer to returning a few weeks ago.

I've got to imagine that Ingram's success has been a bit of an eye-opener for coach Sean Payton, who can't ignore the fact that Ingram has gotten into such a nice rhythm with his high volume of carries. So I'd expect Ingram to still be the clear leader in the backfield, getting 15-plus touches. But Robinson's too good to keep on the bench if he's fully healthy. That's why they call it a "good problem to have."


@MikeTriplett: Can I choose C? I can't believe that any game could be called a "trap game" for a team that's so desperate to win all of its home games. But I suppose you could accuse the Saints of relaxing a bit once they finally worked their way back into first place in the NFC South.

I think the better description of what we saw was a hangover effect from a tough loss to San Francisco (both physically and mentally). I also think we saw too much of an over-correction on offense. The Saints went in with a conservative approach as if to say, "As long as we don't turn the ball over, we'll win."

Either way, I definitely expect the Saints to play more aggressive on offense and put up more points from here on out. Whether that's enough to salvage their season remains a mystery. But I'll be stunned if they only put up 10 points and 330 yards in any more home games along the way. And I did pick them to beat Baltimore (though I did it with much hesitation).


@MikeTriplett: It's entirely possible - especially since he's due to make $7 million in salary and bonuses next year, which is awfully high even if the Saints weren't in a salary-cap bind. I think the only way Marques Colston stays is if he takes a significant pay cut. But I won't rule that out, since we've seen a lot of longtime Saints veterans do that in the past (Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Roman Harper, Deuce McAllister, etc.)

Even though Colston's production is clearly starting to diminish, the Saints still value him in his role and continue to trust him in big situations. Then again, there's also the question of whether Colston wants to keep putting his body through the punishment if he feels like he's not playing at his peak level. He's set up his post-football career as an arena football owner, among other endeavors, so he doesn't need to just keep playing for the money. I'd be surprised if he wound up playing for another team, though.


@MikeTriplett: I definitely don't think the Saints need a total rebuild on defense. They're invested long-term on Jairus Byrd and Junior Galette. And they've still got Keenan Lewis, Cameron Jordan, Curtis Lofton, Kenny Vaccaro and Akiem Hicks for at least one more year, among others. That's still an excellent young nucleus of talent. They could really use some help at cornerback and another dynamic young athlete at outside linebacker. But I'd be stunned if we saw any radical changes with the guys on that list.

As for Ryan, I'd also be surprised to see him get fired after just one bad season. Plus, it hasn't even been a full bad season yet, since there's still time to turn things around. The only reason you can "never say never" is because we've seen Payton show impatience with defensive coordinators in the past. But Payton knows the personnel and injury issues Ryan has dealt with in the secondary. And Ryan still appears to have respect and buy-in from his players, which is one of the most important factors.

 
METAIRIE, La. -- Cornerback Keenan Lewis returned to practice on a limited basis Friday, which is a very promising development for the New Orleans Saints.

Lewis is arguably as important as any player on the roster outside of quarterback Drew Brees. And the Saints were noticeably impaired when Lewis was limited to just 10 snaps last week because of a lingering knee injury.

Lewis
Lewis said Thursday that he was hopeful the extra day of rest would help this week since the Saints aren’t playing until Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Last week, Lewis practiced only once. This week it’s possible he will practice twice -- assuming he also practices on Saturday.

For the second straight season, the underrated Lewis was playing at a Pro Bowl level before suffering the injury two weeks ago. He routinely matches up against the opponent's top receiver. And FOX analyst John Lynch said on a recent broadcast that no cornerback is playing better in the entire NFL this season.

Former Saints cornerback Jabari Greer said this week in a scouting breakdown of the Saints that Lewis would be a good matchup against dynamic Ravens receiver Steve Smith. But even if Lewis’ role is limited, it’s clear that having him close to 100 percent would be huge against a Baltimore team that also features speedy threat Torrey Smith.

The rest of the Saints' cornerbacks have struggled with inconsistency this season, and now they will be making a switch at free safety, too, in the wake of veteran Rafael Bush's season-ending broken leg.

In other Saints’ injury news:
  • Running back Pierre Thomas (shoulder, rib) and receiver Robert Meachem (ankle) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day. It appears both could be on track to return from lingering injuries this week. But it’s hard to say definitively if and how much they will play (which means fantasy owners should proceed with caution heading into a Monday night game).
  • Fellow running back Travaris Cadet returned to practice on a limited basis Friday after being held out Thursday with a hamstring injury.
  • Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) also returned to practice on a limited basis. He has been playing through the injury and playing at a high level, so there doesn’t appear to be much concern about his status.
  • Running back Khiry Robinson (forearm) and linebacker Kyle Knox (hand) remained out.
METAIRIE, La. – New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday for the first time since suffering shoulder and rib injuries in Week 7.

Thomas was in great spirits while talking with the media, but he playfully refused to reveal whether he expects to play Monday night against the Baltimore Ravens.

Thomas
“You’re gonna have to find that out. You’re gonna have to wait and see,” said Thomas, who even threw in a suspenseful sound effect at one point: “Who knows when it’s gonna be? It might be Monday. Oooooh.”

“I did not think it was gonna take this long,” Thomas added. “But, hey, I had to make sure it was right, and I still have to make sure it’s right before I step out on that field so I don’t have any setbacks. Because I don’t want to put myself out here and play one game and get hit and then that’s it.

“No, I want to finish this season out and then continue on into the playoffs, too. So I want to help out my team and help myself as much as possible. I gotta be smart about my decision. That’s what I’m doing.”

Thomas’ return would be a huge lift for a Saints offense that just lost dynamic rookie receiver Brandin Cooks to a season-ending thumb injury. Thomas has always been a big part of the Saints’ passing game, especially on screen passes – an element of their offense that they’ll miss with Cooks out.

Plus, fellow pass-catching running back Travaris Cadet was held out of team drills Thursday with a hamstring injury, the severity of which was unknown.

Thomas can also help relieve running back Mark Ingram, who has carried a heavy load with 26 carries per game in the past four weeks.

Fellow running back Khiry Robinson also has been sidelined since Week 7 with an unspecified arm injury. Robinson remained absent from practice Thursday. His timetable remains unclear.

“Oh, man, he’s been holding it down. He’s been holding it down, seriously,” Thomas said when asked about Ingram, who had three straight 100-yard games before the run game was shut down last week against Cincinnati. “I mean, Mark’s been doing a job we all knew he could do; he’s just getting more reps.

“With this organization, with this team, we rotate, and it’s hard to get on a rhythm. And he was on a rhythm. He was moving the ball; he was holding it down for some of us running backs that was down. He was doing the job that he needed to do. Everybody knows that he can do the job. Everybody knows that he can step up to the challenge, and he answered. I’m proud of him.”

Other injury notes:
  • Cornerback Keenan Lewis was absent from practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a lingering knee injury. Lewis also missed two days of practice last week before practicing on Friday and playing 10 snaps – although he admitted he wasn’t as healthy as hoped. Lewis said Thursday that he’s still optimistic and getting better each day, and the extra day of rest before a Monday night game should help.
  • Linebacker Curtis Lofton (ankle) was held out of team drills, though he also was limited last week in a similar fashion before playing a full game. Linebacker Kyle Knox was held out of team drills with a hand injury.
  • Receiver Robert Meachem returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after missing the past two games with an ankle injury. His role in the Saints’ offense could also increase if he’s healthy enough to play Monday, as he has proven ability as a deep threat (another area where they’ll miss Cooks).
  • Right tackle Zach Strief practiced fully after leaving last Sunday with a concussion – a great sign for the Saints, who will be facing two of the league’s best pass rushers Monday in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.

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