Payton expects Byrd back to practice "sooner than later"

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Jairus Byrd has not yet been cleared for takeoff.

The Saints safety was placed on the physically unable to perform list Friday morning. Byrd, who is recovering from March back surgery, will not be able to take part in team activities until he’s removed from the list.

“We’ll work day to day with him,” coach Sean Payton said. “I think the good news is that it’s going to be sooner than later. I don’t want to put a time on it, but his progress is ahead of schedule. ... We’re still just getting it to where we feel it is 100 percent. Clearly, before we leave here, he’ll be back on the roster.”

From an outside perspective, it appears that Byrd is nearing full strength. He ran well during practice and individually went through positional drills, some of which required him to turn his hips and sprint upfield.

When the team announced that Byrd would undergo surgery, it was believed that he would be ready for training camp. A league source said Byrd remained on schedule earlier this week and suggested he could be available by the start of camp.

So it appears Byrd will indeed be ready “sooner than later,” as Payton indicated, but the team is easing him back into action after he missed organized team activities and minicamp.

His partner at safety, Kenny Vaccaro, has no issue with Byrd being sidelined for the time being.

“He signed a long-term deal,” Vaccaro said. “We want him to be here for a long time. And so I think he just wants to take it slow. He’ll be ready for the season.”

Stills sidelined, Morgan back

It took less than two hours for the Saints to have their first injury of training camp.

About midway through Friday’s session, wide receiver Kenny Stills pulled up lame while chasing down a Drew Brees pass on the left sideline.

He immediately clutched his right quad and exited the field with a member of the training staff.

Payton said the injury is not serious and that Stills has been dealing with it for a few weeks.

On the flip side, wide receiver Joseph Morgan returned to practice after missing all last season with an ACL and meniscus injury. He managed to make an instant impact by catching a deep touchdown pass from Brees.

The play drew the first loud roar from the crowd.

“He’s recovered well,” Payton said. “The knee injury he had was significant, it was much more than just an ACL. To see him out here and see him with the conditioning test and to do all those things, it takes a full year with the injury he had and then some. It’s good to see. He was running well today.”

Forever young

What’s that about Brees’ window closing? The Saints quarterback noted that he might have less hair than he did the first time he passed for 5,000 yards, but he’s not willing to entertain talk about his career entering the back nine.

“If I tell myself I’m 25, I’m 25. That’s honestly my mindset,” Brees said. “I can play for another 10 years. That would be my goal. I’m going to take it one year at a time, but there’s no reason why I couldn’t do that.”

Brees noted that he now needs to take extra precautions to maintain his health and to recover, and has also improved the way he trains. Through these improved methods, Brees said he feels he has evolved as a quarterback. That makes him believe he can achieve his goal.

Cooler climate

The biggest and most obvious benefit to the Saints practicing in West Virginia is that the climate is cooler. After one practice, the players are already seeing the benefits.

“A lot of guys will notice right now with weigh-outs, checking what kind of water loss you’re losing in a practice,” offensive lineman Zach Strief said. “If you lose nine pounds in practice, it is very hard to replace that in a day. You’re drinking too fast to replace it. At the end of a week that builds up, it puts wear on your muscles, and you see a lot more issues with that kind of stuff.

“And when you’re not hydrated, that practice hurts that much more. There’s that much more tear on your body. This is a marathon.”

Strief also said Payton is pushing the team harder in practices due to the cooler climate.