May 3, 2010

Sharper's healthy return would solidify secondary

Darren Sharper returns as the unquestioned starter at free safety, re-signing with the Saints on Monday.  

But will he be healthy?

Tied for the league lead in interceptions and interception return touchdowns, Sharper had offseason surgery on his left knee which could endanger his training camp readiness. 

The microfracture surgery that was once risky and controversial is now more and more common.  Saints RB Reggie Bush and WR Marques Colston both have had the surgery, which involves perforating sensitive tissue that exposes blood-rich marrow.  The body's healing process responds to the tiny wounds and stimulates the generation of crucial soft tissues.

Typical microfracture surgeries require two to six months of recovery time. Sharper's recovery from the February surgery could put him out through preseason.

So where does that leave the secondary?

The Saints return the starting lineup from their Super Bowl run - Sharper and Roman Harper at free and strong safeties, with Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer locking down the islands.

For 2009 first round pick Malcolm Jenkins, not much should change.  Jenkins played both safety and cornerback in 2009, depending week-to-week on the Saints' injury situation, starting six games at cornerback but shifting back to nickelback and safety regularly.

It was Jenkins who started across from Randall Gay and even Mike McKenzie when both starting cornerbacks, Greer and Porter, were out of action in early December.

With Sharper on board, Jenkins will not move to free safety full time, and will likely prepare for both nickelback and free safety jobs.

One of the best battles of training camp will be between first round rookie Patrick Robinson, Jenkins and veteran Randall Gay, as they jockey for playing time behind Porter and Greer.

This may be a make or break offseason for defensive back Usama Young, the 2007 third round pick who was beaten for a touchdown when he subbed in at cornerback in the Super Bowl. Like Jenkins, Young studied to play both safety and cornerback in 2009. 

Leigh Torrence and Young figure into the mix at cornerback but may have to make the team on special teams contributions or on the valor of injuries above them.

At safety, the Saints enjoy the return of speedy 2009 draft pick Chip Vaughn, who will compete with Jenkins, and veteran Pierson Prioleau.  Special teams ace Chris Reis is expected to make the team.

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