Consider Sunday’s home opener Khiry Robinson’s latest opportunity to play Saints hero.
With running back Mark Ingram out with a fractured hand, Robinson is expected to receive the biggest load of carries against Minnesota (1-1) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“When something like that happens, you have to be up and ready,” said Robinson, a former undrafted free agent who is in his second season.
Robinson said Thursday that he’s up to the rushing challenge. He enters the third game of the season as a part of the Saints’ former four-man backfield with 14 carries for 59 yards and one touchdown. Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet are also expected to earn playing time, but Robinson’s speed, power and improved pass protection skills give him a chance to increase his role in Sean Payton’s offense.
“Khiry is another back that we feel like is young and is someone that will be ready for the workload,” Payton said Wednesday.
He’s handled it before. Last season, Robinson rushed for 53 yards and a third-quarter TD during a 30-27 loss Week 6 at New England. He then rushed for 50 yards in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay and in the playoffs saw action at Philadelphia (45 yards) and started at Seattle (57 yards, TD).
Ingram, a former first-round pick, earned the starting job out of training camp, but Robinson’s improvements were noted.
“I know a whole lot more this year than I knew last year,” he said. “The plays, the schemes, just the game.”
Defense looks to improve
The Saints defense wants to be better on third-and-long, forcing offenses to get off the field.
So far, the unit has been one of the worst in the NFL, allowing 13 of 27 conversions (48 percent), ranking sixth-worst.
“Defensively, we want to be better,” Payton said of the Saints on third down. “With that being a point of emphasis... there’s some areas there that hopefully, we can improve on defensively, and offensively, our numbers have been high and hopefully, we can continue that.”
Defensive end Akiem Hicks said it’s all about taking advantage of more opportunities.
“It’s a matter of capitalizing on those small chances you get to make a play,” Hicks said. “Not letting them complete those balls, not letting them run, not letting them get into those situations where they have a better chance percentage-wise to make something happen.”
Offensively, Minnesota is third-worst in the league at converting third downs, making just 7 of 23 (30 percent).
Middle linebacker David Hawthorne (ankle) did not practice for the second time this week, adding doubt to his status for Sunday.
“My role is obviously going to increase more,” reserve linebacker Ramon Humber said. “It’s next man up. I’m just looking to contribute, do my job and help this team get a victory.”
Center Jonathan Goodwin (elbow) was limited after sitting out Wednesday’s practice. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton (shoulder) was limited for the second time this week. Also, linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) was limited.
For the Vikings, linebacker Chad Greenway (hand/rib) did not practice for the second time this week. Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (chest) was limited for the first time this week. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) and offensive tackle Phil Loadholt (ankle) were upgraded to limited on Thursday. Linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) and tight end Kyle Rudolph (abdomen) were limited.
The Saints re-signed linebacker Todd Davis to the practice squad to help the defense get through practice without Hawthorne, whom Payton said is “day to day.” Safety Pierre Warren was released. ... With Hawthorne down, the Saints also conducted mid-week workouts with free-agent linebackers Jamar Chaney and Pat Angerer, according to a report from ESPN. Chaney played for the Eagles from 2010-12 and for Atlanta in 2013, and he was cut by Denver at the conclusion of this preseason. Angerer played for Indianapolis from 2010-13 and was cut from Atlanta at the end of the preseason. Neither signed as of Thursday.