NFC South: Jamarca Sanford

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Junior Galette said he expects to remain in a limited role Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

Although Galette never appeared on the injury report this week, he told reporters Friday that his knee still isn’t 100 percent and that he thinks it’s a “smart” approach to keep limiting his snaps. He played only 27 snaps on Monday night against the Chicago Bears in a pass-rushing role -- and still wound up with two sacks.

Galette
“Probably the same thing going into this game. Kind of ease off the knee a little bit,” Galette said. “Right now my knee’s not 100 percent. So just being smart and making sure I’m not playing 60 snaps on half a knee.”

Three Saints players are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game: Left tackle Terron Armstead (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring).

Of that group, Hicks seems to have the best chance of playing after he returned to practice on a limited basis Friday. Armstead and Sanford did not practice all week.

Armstead would be replaced in the starting lineup by Bryce Harris, who’s had some ups and downs in cameo appearances this season but played well in Armstead’s absence last week.

It’s unclear how the Saints will replace Sanford since he just replaced Kenny Vaccaro last week as the starting strong safety. Perhaps Vaccaro will return to that role in base packages and play his nickel/hybrid spot in nickel and dime packages. Other possibilities include Marcus Ball and Corey White.
METAIRIE, La. -- Veteran Jamarca Sanford would seem to be the most likely candidate to replace Rafael Bush as the New Orleans Saints’ starting free safety.

Sanford
Sanford, 29, is listed as Bush’s backup on the Saints’ unofficial depth chart. And the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder spent the past three years as a starter for the Minnesota Vikings, where he reportedly performed well in pass coverage.

The only real knock on Sanford is that he showed up in New Orleans a week ago -- signed mostly as a special-teamer and emergency backup.

But that’s what the Saints are down to now that Bush has been placed on injured reserve with a broken leg. Bush was the third Saints safety to land on IR, following veteran Jairus Byrd and rookie Vinnie Sunseri.

Sanford, a seventh-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2009, spent three games with the Washington Redskins earlier this season after being released by Minnesota. He has 269 career tackles, with two interceptions, eight forced fumbles and one sack.

The Saints have other candidates, but they all come with question marks, too:
  • First-year safety Marcus Ball has been with the team all year, but coach Sean Payton described him as more of a strong safety and special-teamer this week -- and Ball has struggled at times when he has played as a third safety on defense.
  • The Saints signed undrafted rookie Pierre Warren on Tuesday off the Vikings’ practice squad. Warren spent the summer with the Saints and made a strong impression as a playmaker in training camp. But he was ultimately released (ironically because of too much depth at safety), and he didn’t even stick long on New Orleans’ practice squad. It’s hard to imagine him stepping right into a starting role.
  • Cornerback Corey White is a wild-card possibility who played safety in college and dabbled at the position in nickel and dime packages during training camp. The Saints have more depth at cornerback, with Patrick Robinson, Brian Dixon, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and recently-promoted Terrence Frederick all capable of stepping up a rung on the depth chart. But the Saints already might need some of those guys to step up since starter Keenan Lewis is still battling a knee injury.
METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints signed veteran safety Jamarca Sanford, according to a league source. And they reinstated receiver Joe Morgan, according to The Sports Xchange's Howard Balzer.

Sanford
To make room, the Saints released guard Eric Olsen. No other moves were announced, but the Saints will have to open up at least one more spot on the 53-man roster.

The Saints appeared to be targeting a veteran safety since they worked out three of them before signing Sanford, according to ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates. The Saints also worked out veteran safeties Kenny Phillips and MD Jennings.

It's possible the Saints might be seeking depth at the position after rookie safety/special teamer Vinnie Sunseri suffered an arm injury during last Sunday's game against the San Francisco 49ers. But the severity of Sunseri's injury is unknown.

Sanford, 29, would fit that bill since he's both an experienced former starter and a special teams standout. He's 5-foot-10, 200-pounds and spent five years with the Minnesota Vikings, starting from 2011-2013, before being released due to a series of nagging injuries this summer. He then spent three games with the Washington Redskins last month.

Sanford, a seventh-round draft pick out of Ole Miss in 2009, has 269 career tackles, with two interceptions, eight forced fumbles and one sack.

The Saints also worked out several veteran running backs, according to Yates: Andre Brown, Tim Hightower, Brian Leonard and Mike LeShoure.

That doesn't automatically mean the Saints will sign one of them, since teams often work out players in groups to update their “ready lists.” But the Saints are thin at running back with Khiry Robinson (arm), Pierre Thomas (shoulder/ribs) and now Edwin Baker (concussion this past Sunday) nursing injuries.
Newton/PetersonGetty ImagesCam Newton looks to take advantage of a spotty Vikings secondary, but the Panthers may have their hands full with Adrian Peterson.
Both the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers have reason to feel they should be better than 1-3 through their first four games of the season. One of those teams will get to stoke its flickering playoff hopes Sunday at Mall of America Field, while the other will fall even further out of the picture.

The Vikings have yet to announce whether Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel will start, and it might not be long before Josh Freeman takes over the quarterback job. But while the quarterback position might be the most intriguing question facing the Vikings at the moment, it probably isn't the most pressing one. That would be in the secondary, where the Vikings are hoping Chris Cook and Jamarca Sanford return from injuries to help a team that's given up an average of 326 passing yards a game and allowed decisive touchdowns on a pair of last-minute drives.

That could be good news for a Panthers team that's so far had more problems on offense than defense. Carolina has scored just 74 points, turning the ball over nine times and throwing for more than 220 yards just once this season. Third-year quarterback Cam Newton -- who came into the league with Ponder in 2011 -- has continued to struggle. Even though the Panthers have allowed the third-fewest points in the league, outscoring opponents through four games, they are trying to keep their season alive, just like the Vikings are.

ESPN.com Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and Panthers reporter David Newton broke down this week's matchup:

Ben Goessling: David, I have a feeling the Panthers are as steamed about their record through four games as the Vikings are. Both of these teams lost in the waning seconds in Week 2, and neither has gotten good enough quarterback play to help their playoff aspirations after late-season surges in 2012. At first glance, though, this matchup would seem to favor the Panthers, who have done an excellent job of stopping the run and might force the Vikings to lean on their passing game more than they'd like to at home. How do you think this defense matches up against Adrian Peterson, and how much trouble can it give whomever starts for the Vikings at quarterback?

David Newton: This matchup definitely seems to favor the Carolina defense that has played well enough to win every game. Yeah, Arizona scored 22 points. But that's a bit misleading since two came on a safety late in the third quarter and the last came on a real short field with just over two minutes left after Cam Newton's fourth turnover. The Panthers actually improved from 10th to third in total defense, holding Arizona to 250 total yards. Stopping Adrian Peterson will be the challenge, but Carolina has done a good job all season of making opponents pass with a stout front seven that is allowing only 92.3 yards a game. The key in my opinion will be how much pressure the front four can put on whomever the Vikings play at quarterback. Arizona went with three-step drops and quick passes to somewhat negate that and frustrate pass-rushers Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. But what has made Carolina successful against the rush and the pass is that it has been able to stop both without using a lot of blitz packages that sometimes opens big holes for big-time backs like Peterson.

While we're on defense, the Vikings haven't really faced a quarterback that can run and throw like Newton this year, and they are ranked 30th on defense. How do you see that matchup?

Goessling: I don't particularly like it for the Vikings. They probably struggled the most in Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, when they were facing a team with a dynamic passing game and a shifty running back (Reggie Bush) who did a lot of his damage thanks to missed tackles on the first and second levels of the Vikings' defense. The Vikings also haven't faced much of the read-option in the last two years, and when they did see it -- particularly against Robert Griffin III last year -- they struggled with it. I could see Cam Newton giving the Vikings problems with his feet, and Ben Roethlisberger also showed how you can burn the Vikings' young secondary by keeping plays alive. If Newton can avoid turnovers (and the Vikings have caused 12 of them this season), he could direct the Panthers' offense to a big day.

Here's the question the Vikings are probably asking themselves, though: How erratic will Newton be? He's part of that 2011 quarterback class (like Ponder) that has struggled quite a bit in the NFL, and as you mentioned, his turnovers cost the Panthers against Arizona. Will he be able to take advantage of the Vikings defense, or will they have their chances to create a few takeaways off of him?

Newton: Let me clarify first. Newton's turnovers in the fourth quarter did lead to the widening of the margin at Arizona, but he played well early and the Panthers would have been -- should have been -- up by two scores at halftime if Steve Smith hadn't dropped a 4-yard touchdown pass and Brandon LaFell a first-down pass at the Arizona 15. But Newton has been inconsistent with his throws, particularly if pressured. When given time like he had against the Giants he was able to pick apart the defense. Teams that have pressured Newton, particularly with five-man fronts, have forced him into mistakes. Looking at the numbers, it appears the Vikings haven't done a great job of pressuring quarterbacks. That to me is where this game will be won or lost for Minnesota.

While we're on quarterbacks, what's been wrong with Ponder this year? And if Josh Freeman is the answer, why not go ahead and give him a shot this week?

Goessling: Ponder's issues have been the same ones we've seen from him during his entire run in Minnesota. It just seems like he's apprehensive about pulling the trigger unless he's got a perfect throwing lane or a receiver who's a step clear of his defender. That throws off his timing, or he gives up and takes off, when a more confident quarterback might be able to hit a receiver for a 15-yard gain in tight coverage. Essentially, he's just not confident enough to make the tough throws, and his interceptions have come when he's flinched and either thrown a pass too early or failed to put enough on the ball. That might be why the Vikings seem ready to move on -- Ponder's issues are about more than his physical attributes, and that's a hard thing to fix.

As for Freeman, the Vikings want to give him time to learn the offense, and while I'm guessing we'll see him in a week or two, particularly if the Vikings lose, my hunch is Matt Cassel will get a chance to build on his Week 4 win this Sunday.

To wrap this up, what do you think is the biggest key to a Panthers victory?

Newton: I almost laugh when you say key to victory because this team simply doesn't know how to win -- at least on a consistent basis when it matters. This is the third straight 1-3 start and they haven't had a winning record since 2008. But as coach Ron Rivera keeps saying, they are close. But they were close last week and blew countless opportunities to take command in the first half and wound up looking dismal. It seems almost every week it's a breakdown in another area, or multiple areas. If I had to pick one key, though, it would be for the offensive line to give Newton protection. When he has time, the Panthers score points. If they score points, the defense will take care of itself.

How about for the Vikings?

Goessling: I agree that getting to Newton is a big part of the equation; they need to force him into turnovers and keep him from putting their defense on its heels. This is a team that plays its best when it gets an early lead, can run Adrian Peterson and turn its defensive line loose. If the Vikings do that, they might be able to cover up their issues in the secondary and sneak out with a victory.

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