Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe hoping to leave IR behind and stay on the field _lowres

Advocate file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Saints linebacker Dannell Ellerbe

Dannell Ellerbe felt some frustration this summer when he missed the beginning of training camp with a toe injury and then suffered a different toe injury during the preseason opener.

Naturally, he wanted to play and be on the field. But the fact that he knew he was going to get healthy, avoid surgery, and eventually get back on the field was enough to give a positive outlook while he was rehabilitating.

“Just knowing that I be able to play again, it’s a blessing,” Ellerbe said, referencing a 2014 injury that landed him on injured reserve. “Because with the hip, when I did the hip it could have been over. I’m just thankful to have a chance to come back and play.”

Ellerbe returned to practice this week in a limited capacity and is “very hopeful” he’ll be able to play this weekend, but he said he’ll smart about the decision so he doesn’t create a lingering issue by injuring his toe again.

He also knows that if he does play, it’s unlikely that he’ll be thrown to the fire and assume a large role out of the gate. It’s more likely he’ll serve in nickel packages and be on a snap count of sorts until he’s fully up to speed.

“I know eventually I want to play every snap,” he said. “You got to wean yourself back in and get into football shape. I’m in shape but it’s a different type of shape, football shape.”

Coach Sean Payton is eager to see him back on the field. The Saints acquired Ellerbe as part of the trade that sent wide receiver Kenny Stills to Miami. When Ellerbe comes back he’ll play weakside linebacker, where his ability in coverage will be best put to use.

“His strengths start with versatility. He is a run and chase guy, a guy with a significant role in your nickel and sub packages,” Payton said. “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.”