Saints’ Thomas Morstead looks to make his mark

Associated Press file photo by PHELAN M. EDENHACK. New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead will play in Sunday's Pro Bowl, along with three Saints teammates — quarterback Drew Brees, guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod.
Associated Press file photo by PHELAN M. EDENHACK. New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead will play in Sunday's Pro Bowl, along with three Saints teammates — quarterback Drew Brees, guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod.

Over the past seven seasons, the New Orleans Saints have set numerous NFL records with most of them being produced by prolific offense led by coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees.

On Sunday, however, punter Thomas Morstead can chalk one up for the special teams when the Saints close out the season against the Carolina Panthers.

Barring a long return by the Panthers, Morstead will set an NFL single-season record for net average. The four-year veteran, who Wednesday was voted to the Pro Bowl, is averaging 44.4 net yards and could erase the record of 43.99 set last season by San Francisco’s Andy Lee.

“We’ve had a lot of guys set records here such as Drew, Jimmy (Graham), Marques Colston,” special teams coordinator Greg McMahon said. “We’ve had guys who have done great things, but it’s all within the context of the team.

“It would be a great tribute to our team and the guys who are out there with him (to get the record),” he added. “Thomas would be the first guy to tell you it’s a team type of goal. It’s something you would like to achieve.”

Morstead, who leads the league in gross average as well at 50.5 yards per kick, has averaged better than 50 yards in 10 of 15 games this season and averaged 49.7 and 49.3 in two others.

Evans praised

Guard Jahri Evans, the Saints’ only other Pro Bowl pick, received high praise from interim coach Joe Vitt after being voted to the all-star game for the fourth consecutive season.

“He kind of reminds me of (former Kansas City Chiefs’ star) Will Shields, who I think will be the next guard that goes into the Hall of Fame,” Vitt said. “Jahri has that chance now with the numbers he’s put up and the work habits he has. He’s such a stable person. He knows what he has to do to get better.

“He’s not going to miss a game, not unless he’s in the hospital,” Vitt said of Evans, a three-time All-Pro pick who’s played in 119 consecutive games since being chosen in the fourth round of the 2006 draft. “He’s not going to miss a game.”

Practice report

Fullback Jed Collins, who sat out Wednesday’s practice because of a knee injury, had full participation in Thursday’s workout.

CB Jabari Greer (concussion), RB Pierre Thomas (knee) and DT Akiem Hicks (knee) did not practice again and will likely be questionable at best for Sunday’s game.

For the Panthers, DE Greg Hardy (not injury-related), C Geoff Hangartner (foot) and RB Jonathan Stewart (ankle) did not practice.

Former LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell (toe) had full participation Thursday after being limited Wednesday.

Two in a row?

The Saints are 1-5 in regular-season finales since Payton took over in 2006.

They dropped their first five games to end the regular season before halting the streak with a 45-17 victory over the Panthers last Jan. 1.