Though still not 100 percent after straining his left oblique muscle Aug. 1, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is expected to make his preseason debut Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Brees practiced fully Sunday afternoon much to the delight of the 2,700 fans who welcomed the team back to its training facility in Metairie after spending the first three weeks of camp at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Barring a setback in practice this week, Brees said he expects to play the first half against the Colts, perhaps more, perhaps less, depending on the ebb and flow of the game.
“Everybody is trying to get in on this one, just so we can get all the chess pieces out there and get some significant playing time against a good football team on the road,’’ Brees said. “If we go out and score on our first three possessions, then it might be less than a half. If we go out and don’t score at all, then it might be more than that.
“The most important thing is we go out and execute well and make sure we all feel very comfortable leaving that game like, ‘Hey, we are on track. Hey, we are where we want to be on this point.’ Because if we’re not, then that obviously creates more of a sense of urgency.’’
In addition to Brees, Saints coach Sean Payton hopes to get other starters back on the field Saturday, including guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs, wide receivers Kenny Stills and Marques Colston and marquee free agent safety Jairus Byrd, among others.
“It’ll be good to have Drew in the huddle in command of us and him leading us,’’ Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said. “He’s the leader of this team. He’s been my leader since the first time I stepped in this building. We’re all excited to have him back and get this thing moving.’’
Having Brees back under center might help the Saints cut down a recent rash of penalties that now numbers 32 for 288 yards in two preseason games, including 22 for 184 in Friday night’s 31-24 victory against Tennessee at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
“I don’t expect to be limited against Indianapolis,’’ Brees said. “I wouldn’t play if I was limited. That’s not smart. My goal this entire time — from the minute I got hurt, the minute I got the prognosis — was I’m going to be really smart about this and take it one day at a time.
“And I’m going to be playing in that Indy game. That was my goal.’’
Brees acknowledged that he would not have been able to play in the regular season with a strained left oblique because “I couldn’t do the things that were required of me as a quarterback, to generate that kind of power and leverage throwing the football without resting it for a while.’’
“There are injuries where I may have battled through the pain and played,’’ Brees said. “I had a MCL injury a couple years back, and as long as I braced and it was stable, there was pain involved, but I could play with it. This does not get better when you’re playing. It gets much, much worse. This was something that just needed rest.’’
Payton said he is interested to see how Brees feels after going through his first full practice in more than two weeks. How Brees responds will determine his practice schedule the rest of the week and ultimately whether he plays Saturday night.
“We got to make sure Drew is healthy and not hurry him back,’’ Payton said. “We want to make sure we’re not looking at the date ahead of the injury. I think he’s feeling a lot better. The time off that we gave him with regards to the injury was important.’’
In fact, Brees said he became a “better player’’ the past two weeks though he didn’t take a meaningful game or practice snap.
“As you approach this third preseason game, this is really kind of like the final dress rehearsal for the season,’’ Brees said. “This is when the season becomes very imminent. I’ve been taking it very slow, very deliberate; no use in rushing something that could get worse. I wanted to make sure it ‘s all good. I’m still not 100 percent but I hope that by Saturday I am.’’