Jahri Evans returns to practice; New Orleans Saints defense on the rise

Associated Press file photo by MICHAEL DWYER -- Saints quarterback Drew Brees yells instructions behind guard Zach Strief (64) and tackle Jahri Evans (73) in a 2012 preseason game at New England. Evans, who sat out last week's game against the Cardinals with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Thursday. Show caption
Associated Press file photo by MICHAEL DWYER -- Saints quarterback Drew Brees yells instructions behind guard Zach Strief (64) and tackle Jahri Evans (73) in a 2012 preseason game at New England. Evans, who sat out last week's game against the Cardinals with a hamstring injury, returned to practice Thursday.

After having a streak of 122 consecutive starts snapped by a hamstring injury on Sunday, New Orleans Saints guard Jahri Evans was back on the practice field Thursday.

The Saints started preparations for their Week 4 game with the Miami Dolphins a day later than usual because they’re playing on Monday night — something Evans welcomed after sitting out Sunday’s 31-7 win against the Arizona Cardinals.

Evans, who was dressed for the game in case of an emergency, said Sunday he hoped to be back for the Dolphins game — a matchup of 3-0 teams in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He took that first step Thursday when he practiced on a limited basis.

Evans injured his hamstring in the first half of a Sept. 15 game with the Tampa Bay Bucs, but managed to finish the game. He didn’t practice all last week and Friday couldn’t run well enough to play, which helped coach Sean Payton make a decision to insert rookie Tim Lelito into the lineup.

“We were just cautious not to hurt it more,” said Evans, a four-time All-Pro. “We wanted to be smart with it. We knew we had extra days coming into this week, and it paid dividends.”

Defense rising

After three solid performances, the Saints’ new-look defense continues to climb in the NFL stats.

In allowing a season-low 247 total yards to the Cardinals, the Saints defense soared seven spots to fourth in the league in fewest yards allowed at 295.7 yards per game.

The Saints also moved up four spots from eighth to fourth against the pass at 184.3 yards per game and improved seven spots against the run, going from 27th to 20th at 111.3 per game. They’re also fifth in scoring defense at 12.7 points per contest.

Scoring down

One of the biggest reasons the Saints are 3-0 going into Monday night’s game is the scoring defense after they allowed 17, 14 and 7 points in their wins over the Atlanta Falcons, Bucs and Cardinals.

Seven of those points against the Bucs came on an 85-yard interception return by Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster, which should be chalked up to the offense.

Officially, the Saints have given up 38 points in the first three games. That’s two points less than the Saints allowed in their 2012 season opener — a 40-32 setback to the Washington Redskins.

Only the 1992 Saints, who allowed just 28 points in the first three games, have given up fewer points at this point in the season.

Practice report

Seven Saints did not participate in Thursday’s practice.

Not working were WR Lance Moore (hand), RB Mark Ingram (toe), SS Roman Harper (knee), NT Brodrick Bunkley (calf), DE Tyrunn Walker (knee), DE Tom Johnson (hamstring) and G Tim Lelito (calf).

In addition to Evans, CB Jabari Greer (back), CB Chris Carr (knee) and FS Isa Abdul-Quddus (ankle) were limited.

For the Dolphins, CB Dimitri Patterson (groin) did not practice. DE Cameron Wake (knee), DT Paul Soliai (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ribs), LB Koa Misi (shoulder), LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder) and S Chris Clemons (quadriceps/hamstring) were limited.

Strong start

After defeating the Falcons, Bucs and Cardinals, the Saints are 3-0 for only the seventh time in the franchise’s 47-year history.

It’s the third time they’ve gone 3-0 under Payton as they did it in 2006 and ’09. They also started with three consecutive wins in 1991 and 1993 under Jim Mora, in 1998 under Mike Ditka, and in 2002 under Jim Haslett.

Breaking ground

Saints owner Tom Benson was among those participating Thursday in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new athletic facility adjacent to Carver High School in the Ninth Ward.

The “Ninth Ward Field of Dreams” will consist of a community football field, Olympic-sized running track and 1,000-seat facility, will be open to area high schools, middle schools and community members.

“We do everything we can to help as an organization, especially with playgrounds, because it’s so important that our young people become Super Bowl stars some day,” Benson said.