At or near the top of the New Orleans Saints’ priorities during the offseason was a desire to affect the opposing quarterback more after finishing the 2010 season with just 33 sacks.

They made a big effort to beef up the pass rush, bringing in ends Turk McBride and Cameron Jordan and tackles Shaun Rogers and Aubrayo Franklin to go with their mainstays: end Will Smith and tackle Sedrick Ellis.

Despite losing Smith for the first two games to a suspension for using a banned diuretic, the Saints are seeing results with 13 sacks in their first four games - seven more than they had at the same stage last season.

The Saints are tied with Dallas for third in the league, just two sacks behind Washington and Philadelphia. New Orleans leads the NFL with 109 yards lost on sacks after totaling 250 yards all last season.

The goal, coach Sean Payton said, is to hurry the passer and disrupt his timing, and, of course, get the sack if possible.

“It’s hard, and you see teams offensively each week having success throwing the football,” he said. “Generally, if that’s happening, there’s a good chance that quarterback is having time to throw the football. So (yards lost) is an important number.”

Strong safety Roman Harper leads the team with 3-1/2 sacks, while end Junior Gallette has 2-1/2 followed by Smith and McBride with two each.

Kreutz returns

Saints center Olin Kreutz practiced on a limited basis Thursday for the first time since injuring his left knee in a Week 3 win over the Houston Texans.

It was not known, however, if Kreutz will be available for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.

If Kreutz can’t play, he’ll be replaced by Brian de la Puente for the second straight week.

Strongside linebacker Will Herring also returned to practice and was limited after missing 1-1/2 weeks with a hamstring injury.

Practice report

Three players did not participate in Thursday’s practice session: wide receiver Devery Henderson (calf), tackle Zach Strief (knee) and tight end David Thomas (concussion).

Payton said Henderson, a former Opelousas High and LSU standout, aggravated his calf injury in Wednesday’s practice and was listed as having limited participation. He’ll be checked again before Friday’s practice, but Payton said he was optimistic regarding the injury.

Like Kreutz and Herring, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), strongside linebacker Martez Wilson (shoulder) were limited.

Brees climbs lists

With 31 completions and 351 yards in a victory at the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, Saints quarterback Drew Brees now ranks in the top five in both categories in the first four games of a season since the 1970 merger.

Brees has 120 completions this season, which is tied for second, and 1,410 passing yards, which is fifth, for the first four games.

Tom Brady had 129 completions in 2002 to lead that category. Brees ranks only behind Kurt Warner (1,557 yards in 2000), Brady (1,553 in 2011), Kyle Orton (1,419 in 2010) and Drew Bledsoe (1,417 in 1994) in yards.

Piling it up

When the Saints rolled up 503 total yards in Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars, it marked the ninth time in 84 regular-season games under Payton that they’ve hit the 500-yard mark - and the second against Jacksonville.

It was the eighth-most productive game under his direction, ranking just ahead of the 502 yards they picked up against Denver in 2008.

The other seven games with 500 yards were against Cincinnati (595 in 2006), Jacksonville (538 in 2007), Dallas (536 in 2006), Detroit (532 in 2008 and 515 in 2009), Atlanta (521 in 2008) and Pittsburgh (513 in 2006).

McAllister joins CST

Saints all-time leading rusher Deuce McAllister, one of the most popular players in the history of the franchise, has signed on to work with CST’s weekly coverage of the team.

Following every home game, McAllister will join Mike Nabors for “Saints Tonight!” to discuss the performance of the team. The former Ole Miss star will also work on other CST projects.