Third-year Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro is on pace for a career high in tackles in a bounce-back performance from a disappointing 2014.
A day after running his total to 44 stops while making his first sack of the season in New Orleans’ 27-21 victory against Indianapolis, he said the reason for his resurgence was simple: good health.
Although he played in all but the final game a year ago, he said he never felt like he was at full strength.
“The ankle injury I hurt in the last game of my rookie year was a year-and-a-half injury, and I came back in four months,” he said. “That bothered me a little bit throughout the year. And then I had a Grade 2 hamstring tear the first series against Atlanta in Week 1 (in 2014). And then in the middle of the season, I hurt my quad.
“It didn’t show up on the injury report, but it hurt my play.”
Vaccaro, the 15th selection in the first round in 2013, finished with 74 tackles while giving up several big plays last season, becoming a lightning rod for criticism as the Saints went from expected Super Bowl contender to 7-9 and out of the playoffs.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time when you’re out there, you have to hold yourself accountable for anything you do,” he said. “I’m one of those guys that’s going to be hard to sit on the bench. I’m going to play through any type of injury so I can be on the field.”
Cautious with concussion
Although rookie cornerback Damian Swann returned to practice last week after missing the Atlanta game with a concussion he suffered against Philadelphia, the coaches elected to sit him again.
“He cleared the (concussion) protocol, and yet he still had some lingering effects,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “We’ve always gone heavy on the conservative side when it comes to a player with that type of injury.”
With cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip injury) also unavailable, Kyle Wilson started for the first time since 2013, when he played for the New York Jets. The Saints signed Wilson, a first-round pick in 2010, in the offseason.
Wilson broke up two passes and recovered a fumble against Indianapolis.
When Luke McCown completed a 25-yard pass to tight end Ben Watson on a fake field goal in the first quarter, he had a second option. Sort of.
Center Max Unger, a 6-foot-5, 305-pounder, lined up as an eligible left tackle and headed straight down the field.
“I was wide open,” Unger said. “I should have gotten that ball.”
He laughed as he said it. The surprise play helped the Saints take a 7-0 lead on the Colts and set the tone for an aggressive day.
“I really don’t know why I was out (running a pattern),” Unger said. “I guess it’s just to put one of their guys in a hard position (deciding whether) to cover Ben in the flat or me down the hash. It was interesting being downfield legally, so that was kind of cool.”
Unger said he never has caught a pass or scored a touchdown at any level of football.
“I was nervous, but it didn’t happen,” he said. “I’ll have to play a couple more years to try to get one.”
Payton challenged two incomplete pass calls in the first quarter and lost both, first when Marques Colston and then when Watson did not hold on to the ball after they landed on the ground.
The NFL rule is that players have to maintain full possession throughout the process of the catch when they go to the ground. Payton said he had no issue with the rule but was not sure about the interpretation on those two plays.
“The challenge for everyone, including the officials and our league, is just when the possession begins and when is he an active runner,” he said. “At one point, are you now moving with the football, and if you go to the ground, it’s the ground causing the fumble, and the ball’s down.”
The Saints waived cornerback Sammy Seamster on Monday, leaving one spot open on the 53-man roster. Seamster, who was called up Saturday as an emergency cornerback because of injuries at the position, will return to the Saints’ practice squad if he clears waivers, a source told The Advocate. … Payton said he awarded a game ball to Seantavious Jones, a practice squad receiver, because he had a death in the family.