Bush returns to practice, but four other Saints starters sit out

METAIRIE, La. -- Running back Reggie Bush returned to practice while four other New Orleans Saints starters sat out on Wednesday.

Bush had 113 total yards in the Saints' 31-10 win over San Francisco on Sunday in three quarters before leaving the game with bruised ribs.

"I'm feeling good. It's football. This is a physical sport," Bush said. "It was more precautionary. ... It was more where they felt they had the game in hand, so it wasn't a must for me to go back in. That's the reason, I stayed out" in the fourth quarter.

Defensive linemen Charles Grant and Brian Young and starting linebacker Scott Shanle missed practice. So did starting center Jeff Faine, who missed the San Francisco game with a left pectoral strain.

Grant, who's been in on 27 tackles with 1.5 sacks, sprained his right ankle during the first quarter. He returned to the game, but said his ankle swelled up during the flight home that night.

Now in his sixth season in the NFL, Grant has never missed a game and expected that trend to continue.

"I'm going to play," he said. "The swelling has gone down and it's getting better and better."

Young had his third sack of the season against San Francisco, marking the first time in his career he has had a sack in three consecutive games.

He missed one practice last week after having fluid drained from his left knee and coach Sean Payton said he required more rest this week after having the knee drained again, "but not as much."

Payton said Shanle has a sore hamstring.

The coach wasn't willing to rule out any of the starters for Sunday's home game against Jacksonville.

"We'll see where they're at tomorrow," Payton said.

Bush appeared unfazed by a new lawsuit filed against him by a fledgling sports marketer who claims he gave the Heisman Trophy winner's family nearly $300,000 in gifts and other benefits while Bush was in college. Plaintiff Lloyd Lake claims he provided financial assistance to Bush's family with the understanding that he would become Bush's marketing agent when the running back turned pro.

Before the Saints made Bush available to reporters Wednesday, team officials said questions about anything other than football would not be answered.

"I'm focused on football and this game with the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as our team," Bush said. "The team is first and foremost and that's it."

With a three-game winning streak, the Saints (3-4) have gone from 0-4 doormats to playoff contenders. They trail NFC South-leading Carolina by one game.

Yet, they may struggle against Jacksonville (5-2) if they are not in good health and in good form.

Two of the three teams New Orleans has beaten - Atlanta and San Francisco -- have losing records.

Since Payton took over the Saints in 2006, New Orleans is 1-5 against AFC teams, with the lone victory coming at Cleveland on opening day last season.

"We talked about it in the team meeting today; we beat Cleveland and that's been it, really," Payton said. "We've struggled against these other teams. That's one of the other challenges and each week that you play one of these teams, you understand that it's going to be a physical game and no one expects anything different this weekend."

Quarterback Drew Brees, who spent his first five seasons in the AFC with San Diego, said the Saints' poor record against the AFC stems less from one conference's superiority than the fact that the Saints have had to play some of the other conference's better teams.

Last season, New Orleans lost to Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, none of which had losing records in 2006. New Orleans fell to Indianapolis (7-0) and Tennessee (5-2) earlier this season.

"It seems like every team we've played in the AFC is pretty darned good," Brees said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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