Pierre Thomas continues ankle rehab

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints leading rusher Pierre Thomas will miss his third straight game on Sunday in Tampa Bay while he continues to rehabilitate a left ankle sprain.

Thomas says he still feels a little pain when he jogs or tries to make a lateral cut, but he also is pleased that the swelling has gone down.

Thomas accounted for 280 total yards from scrimmage and one touchdown rushing in the Saints' first three games. His injury occurred as he was being tackled near the end of a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter of New Orleans' overtime loss to Atlanta in Week 3.

Meanwhile, starting defensive end Will Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday because of his groin injury and was listed as questionable for this weekend's game.

The Saints hope to get a boost from a renewed kicking game on Sunday.

Garrett Hartley, again the starter after a two-week benching, said he didn't see the demotion as a teaching tool.

"No, that was just something that ... was out of my control and whatever was on the plate I had to, I guess eat it," Hartley said. "That was what the coaches decided and so at that point, all I know is, hey, how can I get better? How can I prevent things like that from happening again? So you just do everything you possibly can do in practice, prepare yourself mentally like you're playing in the game in Sunday's warmup and just trust your swing."

Like a golfer who suddenly develops a bad hook, Hartley was having a little trouble with his leg swing earlier this season. He missed three of his first seven kicks, all of them hooks wide left, and the third miss came from only 29-yards out and cost the Saints an overtime win over Atlanta in Week 3.

After that, the Saints added 46-year-old John Carney to their roster and activated him for the past two games. Carney made his first five field goals, but missed his sixth late in the third quarter of New Orleans' 30-20 loss at Arizona last weekend.

The Saints then cut Carney during the past week, primarily because they needed space on the roster for other positions, did not want to keep two kickers and did not want to cut the stronger-legged, 24-year-old Hartley.

"It really became a challenge to carry the second kicker," coach Sean Payton said. "Garrett has done a good job of responding. I thought he kicked exceptionally well ... and had a good week [in practice] last week."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.