METAIRIE — The New Orleans Saints will welcome right tackle Zach Strief back to the starting lineup for Sunday’s game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Saints coach Sean Payton said Wednesday that Strief, who has missed the past five games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, worked fully in practice for the first time since being injured on Sept. 25 against the Houston Texans.
Strief returned to practice last week on a limited basis, but Payton said he did everything on Wednesday and will start against the Bucs.
“It felt really good today,” Strief said after practice. “It felt good last week, but there was a little rust. I was moving well today, it felt like I had good mobility. It was good, there was no pain and no problems.”
Strief will be required to wear a knee brace, but he said the one he wore in practice is so light and comfortable that he’ll have one on the left knee as well as a precautionary measure.
Brown out for season
Strief’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Saints as his replacement for the past five weeks, second-year pro Charles Brown, was lost for the season in Sunday’s game with the St. Louis Rams.
Brown, who struggled in allowing two sacks against the Rams, suffered a hip flexor injury in the final quarter and was put on injured reserve.
Payton said Brown will have surgery and the rehab process is going to be extensive. He said the amount of time he’ll miss would extend past the end of the season and beyond, so the decision was made to put him on injured reserve.
With Pat McQuistan being the only backup at the position, the Saints signed former Seattle Seahawks tackle Ray Willis. A six-year veteran, the 6-foot-2, 327-pound Willis started 10 games in 2008 and all 16 games in ’09 before missing the entire 2010 season with a knee injury.
Payton said running back Mark Ingram (heel) and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee) were the only players who did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.
It’s not known if Ingram will be able to play Sunday, but Vilma has been able to play in recent weeks despite missing practice time with the left knee injury that he suffered in a Week 2.
Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (ankle), tight end David Thomas (concussion) and weakside linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) had full participation after being limited in Wednesday practices recently. Also full was defensive end Junior Galette (knee).
Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount, who missed the first game with the Saints on Oct. 16 in Tampa because of a knee injury, had full participation in practice on Wednesday.
Also full were former Saints center Jeff Faine (biceps) and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle).
Tackle Jeremy Zuttah (knee) and defensive tackle Brian Price (illness) did not work, while defensive tackle Frank Okam (calf) was limited.
Saints Pro Bowl left guard Carl Nicks said Wednesday he has put a heated exchange with offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in the final minutes of Sunday’s frustrating 31-21 loss to the Rams behind him.
Nicks sounded contrite after the game when he admitted he and Kromer had words on the bench. On Wednesday, the four-year veteran acknowledged he made a mistake after cooling down for a couple of days.
“I realize I made a mistake and I have to move on,” Nicks told reporters. “I figured out why I did it and make sure I never do it again.”
Nicks earned one of the guard spots on the Midseason All-Pro team selected by Sports Illustrated writer Peter King in the magazine’s Nov. 7 issue.
King also selected tight end Jimmy Graham, a second-year pro who has 49 receptions for 713 yards and five touchdowns, to his all-star team.
Two Louisiana natives were also honored as Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, a former Tulane star, was listed along with New York Jets kick returner Joe McKnight, a former John Curtis Christian School standout.
Forte was also named by King as his offensive player of the year.