Falcons' secondary getting healthier at just the right time

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons are closer to having a healthy secondary against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.

Starting cornerback Brent Grimes, who has missed three games following surgery on his right knee, returned to practice on Tuesday but has not yet been cleared for Monday night's game at New Orleans.

Coach Mike Smith gave an encouraging report on Grimes.

"We have not gotten final confirmation if he's going to be ready for the game, but he sure looked good out here today," Smith said. "We need to see how he feels tomorrow and hopefully he'll be back out here on Thursday and get ready for our preparation."

Smith said Grimes wasn't expected to be back in practice so soon.

"Brent's done everything in his power to get back out on the field," Smith said. "He's ahead of schedule by getting back out here today."

A healthy secondary would be an important boost for the Falcons against the Saints' potent offense. Brees already has 11 300-yard passing games in 2011, the most in a single season.

Brees passed for 412 yards and five touchdowns in Sunday's 42-20 win at Minnesota. He needs 304 yards passing to break Dan Marino's record of 5,084 yards, set in the 1984 season.

Smith also hopes cornerback Kelvin Hayden can return from a toe injury on Thursday. Hayden has missed four straight games.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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