METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Hollis Thomas could be out two months with a right triceps injury, all but ensuring that top draft pick Sedrick Ellis will be thrust into a major role on the interior of the defensive line this season.
"They tell me the surgery went well but that's all I know right now," Payton said.
Thomas was a starter for much of the past two seasons, and after attending a weight loss clinic at Duke during the offseason, reported to training camp lighter and more fit than he has been in several seasons.
However, a cyst that developed in the back of his knee forced him to miss numerous practices during the couple weeks of camp. He had only recently returned to practice and was working with the second team when he hurt his arm as the Saints and Houston Texans held a series of joint training sessions leading up to their preseason game in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Depending on the Saints' confidence in Thomas' recovery in the coming weeks, the team could choose to place him on injured reserve, ending his season, rather than holding an active roster spot for him through the first six weeks of the regular season.
Ellis, who had been practicing often with the first team in recent days, said he had been learning a lot from Thomas and was sorry to see him get hurt.
"He's a great guy to take the time to help a younger guy, but I'm going to have to pick it up on my own now," Ellis said. "We wish him a great recovery and we've got to move on. ... It's the whole defensive line's responsibility to help in those situations that Hollis has left open from his injury, but I don't feel any pressure personally."
Linebacker Scott Fujita, one of the Saints' defensive captains last season and Thomas' teammate since 2006, said the veteran interior lineman would be missed, no matter how well the rookie plays.
"That is a big void to fill. Hollis is one of those guys who really prides himself on protecting the linebackers and keeping the double teams off the linebackers, so that's the kind of guy you love to have in front of you," Fujita said. "With the new guy, obviously he's got a whole different level of athleticism that's going to help him get a lot more involved in rushing the passer and making plays on the ball.
"So a lot of that remains to be seen," Fujita added. "We have high expectations for him, but once you get into games and see how he performs, the jury's still out."
Thomas started 14 games last season and was in on 58 tackles, including three sacks.
Ellis was taken seventh overall in the draft. An All-America selection and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2007, he was expected to compete for a starting role this season anyway.
In 13 games last season for USC, Ellis had 58 tackles, 12½ tackles for losses and 8½ sacks. He also recovered two fumbles.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press