Position battles, who's in and out: What you can expect to see when Saints face Patriots _lowres

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints CB Keenan Lewis fights off the block of WR Joe Morgan

Nearly all of the injury attention has rightfully been on the quarterback position for the Saints this week.

But New Orleans has lost another veteran for the game against the Panthers, and the Saints could get two back on defense.

Veteran guard Jahri Evans, who started the first two games of the season, has been declared out with a knee injury, and safety Jairus Byrd remains out despite returning to the practice field this week for the first time since July. Senio Kelemete will likely start in Evans’ place.

Weak-side linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who told reporters earlier this week that he’s hopeful he’ll be able to return to the field against Carolina, was listed as questionable, along with cornerback Keenan Lewis.

As veterans return to the lineup, they will likely be eased back into full work, the way running back C.J. Spiller was against Tampa Bay, according to Saints head coach Sean Payton.

If Ellerbe plays, he’ll likely see the field in passing situations.

“When he comes back whether it be this week or not, he would probably come back first in sub packages and gradually into the base,” Payton said.

If Lewis can go, it would represent a much faster timetable than initially reported. Lewis, who underwent surgery on his hip, reportedly was supposed to miss 4-6 weeks, but it’s only been three weeks since news of the injury broke.

Lewis wants to get back on the field as soon as possible.

“I’m going to let Coach make that call,” Lewis said. “I feel like I’m getting better, and nobody’s ever 100 percent in this league, so whatever Coach thinks is best for me and the team, I’ve got to accept it. If I’m out there, I’ll give all I have.”

Brandin Cooks, who told reporters on Thursday that he was very confident he’d play despite an ankle injury, has been listed as probable.