The New Orleans Saints will be without seven assistant coaches Sunday in Carolina due to COVID-19 protocols and will be missing at least three starters due to injuries.
Defensive end Marcus Davenport (shoulder) and linebacker Kwon Alexander (elbow) were both placed on injured reserve Friday, meaning they will be sidelined for at least three weeks. Center Erik McCoy (calf) and backup linebackers Pete Werner (hamstring) and Chase Hansen (groin) were also ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Pro Bowl cornerback Marshon Lattimore will have a chance to play Sunday despite undergoing thumb surgery earlier this week. Lattimore is listed as questionable after practicing on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, and coach Sean Payton said he will probably be a “game-time decision.”
The coaches, meanwhile, were ruled out by the Saints on Friday afternoon after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. Offensive line coach Brendan Nugent, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson, tight ends coach Dan Roushar, running backs coach Joel Thomas, offensive analyst Jim Chaney, offensive assistant Declan Doyle and special-teams assistant Phil Galiano will all miss Sunday’s game.
Payton said all the coaches were vaccinated, so they can return to work once they have two negative tests 24 hours apart. Apparently that didn’t happen in time for them to travel on Saturday, though.
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Payton joked that he, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr., quarterbacks coach Ronald Curry and assistant offensive line coach Zach Strief have been like the small coaching staff from the show “Ted Lasso,” while the other position coaches have joined meetings via videoconferences.
Among the lower-level assistants who have stepped up for the Saints is former Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who joined the team this summer as a coach/scout through the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship. Bushrod was working with the tight ends in practice.
“It’s not always what you’re used to, and yet those guys are Zooming into meetings, they’re Zooming into evening meetings as we put in offense and defense,” Payton said. “And the No. 1 thing is they’re getting rested and getting healthy. They get tested every day, and in the meantime, there’s others here that are picking up additional work. We’re meeting more collectively than all broken up into our groups. So I think overall it’s gone as well as can be expected.”
Saints left tackle Terron Armstead said Payton has been “kind of getting back into his early days” this week while doing more hands-on coaching with various position groups.
“He’s running around. He’s coaching every position,” Armstead said. “I think he’s having a great time embracing the challenge of missing some great minds in our coaching staff. He’s leaning on some of the older guys and veterans to help out where he sees fit. But his energy’s been up. And that’s Sean. He’s never one to use any situation as an excuse, and that type of approach rubs off on a team.”
Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander’s elbow injury is the latest setback for the former Pro Bowler. AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
As for the injured players, these are disappointing setbacks for Davenport and Alexander — both of whom have battled a series of injuries throughout their careers.
Alexander had just made an impressive recovery from a torn Achilles he suffered in December in time to start in Week 1. He also suffered a torn pectoral with the San Francisco 49ers in 2019 and a sprained ankle in 2020 before he was traded to the Saints.
Davenport missed a total of 12 games in his first three seasons with the Saints with toe, foot and elbow injuries.
Rookie defensive end Payton Turner, the Saints’ first-round draft pick, and second-year linebacker Zack Baun will be among those needed to step up into more prominent roles.
Lattimore injured his thumb during Sunday’s 38-3 win over the Green Bay Packers — the same day he signed a five-year, $97.6 million contract extension.
Asked what goes into the decision of when a player can be cleared to play with a hand injury that is wrapped up for protection, Payton said it depends on the specific injury.
“If you go back through the history, what’s the injury itself?” Payton said. “We’ll see how he does today [in Friday’s practice]. And he’s going to be probably one of those guys that’s a game-time decision. He’s moving around well. He’s in shape. It’s just a matter of the type of injury each person has and what position they’re playing.”
Lattimore is vital to New Orleans’ defense against a division rival that features standout wide receivers DJ Moore and Robby Anderson. However, the Saints will have veteran cornerback Bradley Roby in the lineup for the first time Sunday after acquiring him in a trade with the Houston Texans last week. And rookie cornerback Paulson Adebo played well in his debut, intercepting Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Starting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (knee), reserve defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (calf) and reserve defensive back P.J. Williams (back) are also listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.
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