After a tough start to the season in which he completed just 54.7 percent of his passes in the first games, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is starting to get on a roll.
In the last two games, Brees has connected on 64.6 percent of his passes for 816 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. In the first three games, he threw for 904 yards with seven TDs and five picks.
As a result, Brees is on pace to break the NFL record for passing yards in a single season that he set last December. Brees already has 1,720 yards and is on pace for 5,504 yards — which would top his 2011 mark of 5,476 yards.
“What Drew has done differently is the guys around him have done better, to be honest,” Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said. “Drew has been very intent on working with those guys to do that.”
Kromer said the wide receivers, who were banged up coming out of training camp, are starting to get healthier and get open easier.
“It’s showing in Drew’s play,” he said.
“A lot of it is finding our rhythm and getting in a groove,” Brees said. “We obviously didn’t start off the season the way we wanted to. Just transitioning back into that game week preparation and the flow we like to operate with (was important).
“I feel we’ve started to come back more towards the middle in regards to balance which is what we want as well. It’s a combination of all those things.”
The Saints got some good news Thursday when tight end Jimmy Graham, who sprained his right ankle in the last game on Oct. 7, practiced on a limited basis after being sidelined Wednesday.
Still, it’s not known if Graham will be able to go Sunday against the Tampa Bay Bucs even though Kromer said pain won’t stop him from playing.
“Jimmy is mentally ready and he’s a very tough guy,” Kromer said. “Pain doesn’t affect him. You saw him playing after he hurt his ankle in the game. Those kinds of things won’t affect Jimmy.”
The only player who didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice was WLB David Hawthorne, whose hamstring injury is likely to sideline him for a third consecutive game.
SLB Scott Shanle (illness) had full participation after being out Wednesday, and CB Jabari Greer (groin) and G Jahri Evans (toe) were also full after being limited Wednesday.
For the Bucs, G Carl Nicks (toe) and WR Vincent Jackson (calf) were limited. Jackson was added to the practice report after having full participation Wednesday.
Vilma works again
Kromer said middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was able to practice for the first time this season on Wednesday, looked good again Thursday as he makes a bid to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list.
“He is running around well and he’s physically ready,” Kromer said. “He has made some plays in practice that you’re impressed with. We are excited and hoping he is ready.”
Kromer said the Saints will wait until the weekend to decide whether to activate Vilma for Sunday’s game.
“As the week goes on we’ll continue to see how he feels after each practice,” Kromer said. “Are there any kind of setbacks? Is there soreness or anything like that that could hold him up as well? It’s physical and it’s mental.”
The Bucs’ Ronde Barber is still playing at a high level in his 16th NFL season, even if it is at a new position.
Barber, a five-time Pro Bowl pick and three-time first-team All-Pro selection, moved to free safety after 15 seasons at cornerback. He has apparently adapted well with a team-leading two interceptions that have pushed his career total to 45.
“You get into nickel situations and he’s in and around the box and over the slot and he does all of the things that he’s done forever,” Brees said. “I still think they do a good job of getting him in those positions ,and you can see that he’s very comfortable there.
“He’s such a great athlete, a versatile player and competitor that you can put him anywhere. He is a great football player.”