Injured Saints fullback Erik Lorig may not be ready for season opener

Saints fullback Erik Lorig may not be recovered from an undisclosed injury before the start of the regular season, coach Sean Payton said Tuesday.

That would leave the job to 2013 practice squad player Austin Johnson or veteran Greg Jones, who signed on Aug. 6, shortly after Lorig’s injury during the first phase of training camp in West Virginia.

“Our preparation’s got to be with the idea that, as Erik’s rehabbing, we’ve got to be ready to have a fullback Week 1, with the chance it’s not going to be Erik,” Payton said.

The Saints’ pass-first offense does not heavily rely on fullbacks. Still, it’s an important job, with the offense aiming to start fast with the rushing attack, led by Mark Ingram.

Jones, an 11-year pro, has opened running lanes for Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor in Jacksonville.

Johnson, meanwhile, played his first two seasons at Tennessee as a fullback before switching to linebacker.

“Austin’s had a good camp,” Payton said. “Greg’s been here for two weeks. Both of them will play a lot again this weekend. Both of those guys are competing.”

Lorig, a fifth-year pro, entered the NFL as a defensive end before he was converted to play fullback and tight end. In four seasons in Tampa Bay, Lorig caught 30 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown. He has never had a rushing attempt during his career.

Yet, he’s also served as a lead blocker for running back Doug Martin, who in 2012 rushed for 1,454 yards with 11 touchdowns, breaking the team’s rookie rushing record and finishing third in the NFL with 1,926 total yards from scrimmage. Lorig also helped LeGarrette Blount in 2010 rush for 1,007 yards.

You never get used to it

-Veteran receiver Robert Meachem said Saints players never become accustomed to practicing in the heat and humidity of New Orleans, scorching days like Tuesday.

Meachem also said competition never gets easier, despite his seven seasons in the league, mostly as one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets.

“Every day, you’re competing,” he said. “It’s not just this year. Any other year. You’re competing to be the best, you’re competing for a spot. You never know what can happen.”

Meachem then mentioned his ill-fated 2012 season in San Diego which followed five years with the Saints (2007-11).

“I was supposed to be the guy,” said Meachem, who was cut by the Chargers late in training camp. The Saints picked him up for a return to New Orleans, the team which drafted him 27th overall in the 2007 NFL draft.

Last season, Meachem played in 15 games, with five starts. He caught 16 passes for 324 yards and two TDs.

For his career, he’s caught 171 passes for 2,800 yards and 27 TDs.

Meachem is believed to be within reach of earning a roster spot, but this summer may represent the most he’s been pushed. First-round pick Brandin Cooks is a lock to make the roster, as is veteran Marques Colston. Meachen follows, but a slip in play could have allowed fourth-year pro Joseph Morgan, third-year pro Nick Toon or others to move up a spot.

“We’ve got great receivers,” Meachem said. “Yes, we have a strong core. So we’re going to have great battles. ... There’s going to be dog fights, and right now, we’re all in a dog fight to make the team.”

Extended roster?

Hours before the NFL increased practice squads from eight to 10 players, Payton said he would welcome the extended roster.

“We talked about it this morning,” Payton said. “It’s the number one way for teams to develop players.”

Before this season, NFL teams utilized eight practice squad spots.

“Once the season starts, those guys are a part of the team,” Payton said. “They’re involved in drills, they’re involved in every element. All you have to do is look at the past five years of practice squad players that are now on 53-man rosters. There’s a ton of them.”

Saintly day

Former Saints great Morten Andersen was born Aug. 19, 1960, in Struer, Denmark. Another Saints great, Bobby Hebert, was born on the same day in Cut Off.