Willie Snead understands what is going on.

That doesn’t mean it's been easy for him to wait for his opportunity to get going again.

Snead has missed an extended period of the season — first because of a drunken-driving suspension and then because of a hamstring injury. That has led the Saints coaching staff to ease him back into action.

He gets that the Saints' recharged running game has lowered the number of opportunities for all the receivers, and that other guys are playing well within the offense and deserve snaps.

At the same time, Snead wants to play.

“It’s definitely been tough,” the third-year wide receiver said. “I’m used to being in there on third down. I’m used to getting all those reps. But at the same time, I understand the point of view that these guys are coming from. ... Guys have been doing great in this offense. I feel like it’s just all about getting me those reps again, ease me back into the offense.”

Snead says he is finally healthy now. It took him a while to get there. He battled a toe injury early on, was out for the first three games because of his suspension, and then missed additional time with a hamstring injury that he said “came out of nowhere.”

“I feel great,” Snead said. “This is the best I’ve felt all year.”

The coaching staff has taken time to integrate Snead back into the lineup. He played 21 snaps against the Miami Dolphins, was inactive against the Lions, then played four snaps against Green Bay and 18 last week against Tampa Bay. So far, he has one catch for 11 yards.

Coach Sean Payton said it’s going to take some time to get him back up to speed.

“It’s his third week — really his second full week full-speed,” Payton said. “That’s kind of a long time off. He’s going to continue to be worked into the plan.”

Snead served as a key member of the offense the past two seasons. As a rookie, he caught 69 passes for 984 yards with three touchdowns. He followed that with 72 catches for 895 yards and four touchdowns last season. On third down during those two seasons, he caught 50 passes for 646 yards.

He trusts that his role will grow as the season progresses, and he understands why it's taken some time to reintegrate him into the offense.

The Saints are passing less than they have in the past, and the running game is doing a good job moving the ball. The success there has changed some of the personnel packages New Orleans has used this season, and lowered the total number of snaps for wide receivers.

Last year, New Orleans had three receivers play 64 percent or more of the total snaps. This year, only Michael Thomas (84.6 percent) and Brandon Coleman (69.1) have eclipsed that mark.

Even if it has cut into some of his potential opportunities, Snead says he's happy to see the team succeeding and is looking toward the playoffs to give him an opportunity to make up for missed time.

“If we keep going like (this), we’re going to make the playoffs, and then after that, it’s just making sure I’m healthy and making sure I’m available and getting those same reps that I was used to getting,” Snead said. “It’s tough for me right now, but I feel like down the stretch it will be better.”

At the same time, Snead is ready to get going. So, the question is, when will he stop being eased back in and be ready to go like he has in the past?

“I think that’s all on coach, to be honest,” he said. “I pretty much have no idea. He knows I’m ready. ... At the end of the day, I’m all with it. I’m just available for whenever coach needs me.”

Follow Nick Underhill on Twitter, @nick_underhill.​

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