Rookie Damian Swann earning permanent spot in Saints’ secondary _lowres

Associated Press file photo by MATT ROURKE -- New Orleans Saints cornerback Damian Swann gestures during a game against the Eagles on Oct. 11 in Philadelphia.

Damian Swann has missed six of the past seven games because of back-to-back concussions suffered back-to-back, the second coming in the first game after a full recovery.

He’d never had a concussion before.

Now, after a month to heal, Swann returns to the game with a deeper appreciation for the risk of head injury in football, although he isn’t afraid to return to the game.

“You have no choice but to worry about it,” Swann said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve still got to go out there and do my job. This is what I get paid to do, this is what I love to do. And this comes out with the sport. ... As long as you play this sport, you’re at a risk of injury, no matter which one it is.”

There will be some subtle changes when Swann returns to the field.

His helmet will be the most obvious. The rookie is no longer using the standard model; Swann has shifted to the Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, considered the safest helmet on the market.

Getting used to the helmet wasn’t difficult. Knocking off a month of inactivity — a player who suffers a concussion can’t do anything athletic until he’s asymptomatic — was more difficult, and it began with Swann’s limited return to practice last week.

Despite practicing last week, Swann was never going to play against Carolina.

New Orleans could use the rookie, who showed promise as the Saints’ nickel back early in the season. With Keenan Lewis on injured reserve, Delvin Breaux battling a balky hamstring and Brian Dixon facing an abdomen injury, Swann has to hit the ground running.

“Missing that amount of time, you’re going to come out rusty,” Swann said. “This is one of those weeks where I have to go in and play. I’ve got to knock the rust off fast.”

Need for Snead

The first hiccup of Willie Snead’s magical breakout season arrived last week.

Snead, who suffered a calf injury Nov. 29 against the Texans, was forced to miss the first game of his NFL career because of injury, but the first-year wide receiver expects to be back in the lineup Sunday in Tampa.

“I’m back, so I feel really good,” Snead said. “I’m just ready to get out there and contribute.”

Snead, who is fourth on the Saints with 45 catches and second with 676 receiving yards, rejoins an offense that found some of its momentum in the second half against Carolina.

With Snead out, Brandon Coleman stepped into a bigger role, grabbing four passes for 73 yards and a score.

“He’s going to be a part of the offense now, so he’s going to keep rolling,” Snead said. “We’re all going to keep rolling, and I’ve got to get back out there.”

Future possibilities

Bronson Hill wasn’t thinking about the Saints on Tuesday. The rookie running back had just finished a tryout in Green Bay.

But while he was in Detroit waiting for a connecting flight home to Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hill got a call from his agent. New Orleans wanted the 5-10, 215-pound rookie on the practice squad right away.

“So I jumped on a flight here,” Hill said.

Hill practiced Wednesday, the start of his third practice squad stint with a team this season. The Eastern Michigan product spent training camp in Buffalo, picking up 92 yards on 29 carries, then got brief appearances on the practice squads in Miami and Chicago.

Not all practice squad opportunities are the same.

“Some of them vary,” Hill said. “I knew I was going to be with the Bears for just a short amount of time, until somebody came back.”

Hill, who rushed for 2,362 yards in his career at Eastern Michigan, thinks he might have a chance to stick in New Orleans.

“Here, I know they want to sign me to a futures contract,” Hill said. “So hopefully I’ll stay here for a while.”

Called up

The Saints have added Austin Johnson to the 53-man roster. The fullback started the season on the active roster, but was released in November and signed to the practice squad.

He will take the roster spot created by Mark Ingram being placed on injured reserve.