For a team that’s famously tight-lipped about injuries to its players, the New Orleans Saints were surprisingly candid Monday about how challenging it was to see cornerback Jabari Greer suffer what coach Sean Payton described as a “significant” knee injury against the San Francisco 49ers a day earlier.
The Saints didn’t reveal what their plan for Greer is, but wide receiver Robert Meachem noted, “Things are going to be a little different around here.” Defensive end Cameron Jordan talked about how it would be impossible to replace the leadership qualities Greer brings to the defense that Monday was allowing the NFL’s fourth-fewest total yards per game (305.4) and third-fewest passing yards per game (191.4).
All said the well-liked 10-year veteran’s spirits remained high.
Greer hurt himself badly defending a deep, third-down pass to wide receiver Jon Baldwin midway through the first quarter of the Saints’ 23-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Greer leapt up and stretched out to bat the pass away with his left hand, and he landed with all of his weight on his left leg.
It appears Greer hyperextended that knee and then rolled his ankle after hitting the turf. He immediately fell and clutched at his left knee.
Athletic trainers immobilized Greer’s leg with an air cast helped him onto the back of a cart. As he was driven away from the field, Greer pointed a finger at his Saints colleagues and waved at the crowd of more than 73,000 people packing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, who cheered for him loudly.
The evocative scene was faintly reminiscent of one cornerback Patrick Robinson experienced when he hurt his knee and was carted off in a Week 2 win at Tampa Bay. The Saints placed Robinson on season-ending injured reserve three days later.
Payton on Monday said he anticipated he’d be able to release the specifics of Greer’s knee injury Tuesday. But he added, “It’s always difficult when someone like Jabari, who’s ... been a staple of what we’ve done defensively, goes down with an injury like he sustained.”
Greer has indeed been a staple in the defensive secondary ever since joining the Saints in 2009 after spending his first six seasons in the NFL with Buffalo. He’s been in 63 regular-season games for the Saints and started all but three of them, breaking up 69 passes, intercepting nine and having a hand in the capture of Super Bowl XLIV.
He’s missed 11 games for the Saints: two in 2012 (concussion, sports hernia); two in ’10 (shoulder); and seven in ’09 (groin).
This year, Greer leads the team with 12 pass break-ups, and he had a pick in the Week 4 win at home against the Miami Dolphins.
“He’s played up to what he did from previous years and was playing at a very high level,” Jordan said.
Jordan remarked that Greer — a soft-spoken husband and father of two who is unfailingly polite with media and is known for being a student and performer of jazz music — offers inimitable “spiritual ... (and) field leadership.”
But Jordan sounded confident that the Saints were well-positioned personnelwise if the worst-case scenario plays out for Greer.
“Talentwise, (second-year cornerback) Corey White is very promising, and he’s going to be a great guy in the future,” Jordan said.
White showed some of that promise when he picked off 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at San Francisco’s 44 in the second quarter Sunday and returned it 43 yards. However, hoping to score his first career touchdown, White stretched the ball out around the 1-yard line, lost his grasp on it, fumbled it out the side of the end zone and gave possession back to San Francisco.
Aside from White, other cornerbacks under Greer and fellow starter Keenan Lewis are nine-year veteran Chris Carr and undrafted rookie cornerback Rod Sweeting. Payton was asked Monday if the team would consider seeking out free-agent cornerbacks in case Greer’s season was over, but the coach said only, “Our guys are looking hard right now ... at all of our options.”
Though he plays for the Saints on the other side of the ball from Greer, Meachem said that it “was a tough one ... knowing things are going to be a little different around here.”
Meachem said Greer went to the Saints’ locker room Monday, and “he was still smiling, still talking” and cracking jokes with teammates.
“Most people would probably be down, but he wasn’t,” Meachem said. “He didn’t act like he was down, and if he is down, he was hiding it well.”
Payton agreed Greer was doing “as well as could be expected.”
“He’s a strong person, and it’s something that nonetheless is still difficult,” Payton said. “He seemed to be hanging in there.”