The New Orleans Saints roster was hit hard in Week 17. All three main roster running backs missed the team’s 33-7 victory over Carolina Panthers due to Covid-19 protocols. As well as the Covid-19 issues, New Orleans has been without key players for several weeks of the regular season. Not least, star wide receiver Michael Thomas. However, as Sean Payton readies his payers for Sunday’s NFC Wild Card showdown with the Chicago Bears, reports out of NOLA suggest the Saints roster is nearing full strength ahead of the playoff contest.
New Orleans Saints Roster Returning To Full Strength Ahead of Playoffs
Running Back Roster Depth
Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, and fullback Michael Burton all missed New Orleans final game of the regular season. Kamara tested positive for Covid-19, and his three teammates were all identified as close contacts. The game still meant a lot to New Orleans hunting a top seed in the NFC. However, the Green Bay Packers victory over the Bears locked New Orleans into the two seed.
Payton and Drew Brees spoke pre-game this was an opportunity for the team to showcase their impressive roster depth. Former Green Bay Packers running back/receiver Ty Montgomery was called up after all three of the Saints running backs were placed on the Covid-19 list.
The veteran playmaker grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Leading the team in carries with 18, Montgomery consistently broke through the Panthers defensive line. Racking up 105 rushing yards and a touchdown on the day.
The Saints announced Wednesday the three running backs who were self-isolating have been removed from the reserve/Covid list. There is also a high chance Kamara will play against the Bears. However, on Sunday Montgomery showed what he has to offer the Saints and potential suitors for the offseason.
New Orleans Saints Long Term Injury Concerns
While the running backs dilemma worked out fine for the Saints in the short term, a bigger concern is the status of wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas was placed on Injured Reserve with an ankle injury before a Week 15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Payton reported Wednesday the next few days are key for the receiver’s progress and determining how much of a role he will play this Sunday. However, he has returned to practice ahead of Sunday.
Thomas struggled with injuries throughout the regular season. A year after breaking the single-season record for receptions, a variety of leg injuries and a suspension forced Thomas to miss 11 games in 2020. Exactly what version of the 2x first-team All-Pro will be available against Chicago remains to be seen.
There was more good news for the Saints this week. All-Pro returner Deonte Harris also returned to practice. Harris has been out of action since November 22nd with a neck injury and offers explosive ability on special teams. Safety Marcus Williams also practiced after missing Week 17 with an ankle injury.
Trey Hendrickson Status Positive News
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson earned a sack against the Panthers in Week 17, after missing Week 16 with a neck injury. Hendrickson finished with a team-leading 13.5 sacks for the season, and the Saints have been cautious with his snap count in practice as they hope to have their emerging star fully healthy this Sunday.
The defensive line has been key to the Saints success on defense in 2020. Hendrickson and Cameron Jordan provide a consistent pass rush from either end position. Both are crucial to pressuring Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this Sunday. On paper, the Chicago offensive unit is statistically the weakest across the two teams. The Saints will aim to take advantage of this by shutting down the Chicago running game, thus forcing Trubisky into obvious passing situations as often as possible.
New Orleans Saints Roster Needs To Be at Full Strength
The injury news out of New Orleans has been positive so far. However, the health of Alvin Kamara after his bout of Covid-19 and Michael Thomas following his ankle injury will be telling.
The Saints have the depth to handle the Bears without either star at full health. However, if Kamara, Thomas, and Trey Hendrickson are all not at 100%, Chicago will smell blood in the water. The Bears defense in particular has the ceiling to lead Chicago to an upset win in the Superdome this Sunday.
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