Saints' offensive stars all getting healthy at the same time

METAIRIE, La. -- Without tight end Jeremy Shockey or receivers Marques Colston and David Patten, Drew Brees still passed for 1,013 yards in the Saints' past three games, leading New Orleans to victory in two.

Now it looks like all three of the Saints' top receiving threats could return for a divisional game Sunday at Carolina.

"Good to go," said Shockey, his teeth chattering intermittently after he emerged from an ice bath following Thursday's practice.

The former Pro Bowl tight end had sports hernia surgery on Sept. 23. He started practicing on a limited basis last week, but sat out last Sunday's win over Oakland.

  -- Jeremy Shockey 

"Everything has felt better every day and that's very encouraging," he said. "It's the first time that I can actually sneeze without feeling like I'm getting stabbed, like in a bar."

Colston, the Saints' best receiver the previous two seasons, said he practiced with very few limitations and has gotten used to making catches with a small plastic splint on his surgically repaired left thumb.

"It's just been really no issues with it at all," said Colston, who hasn't played since the season opener. "I got a lot of good work in this week. I feel comfortable and I know the guys around me feel comfortable with me being in there, so hopefully this is the week I get a chance to get on the field.

"This is a huge game," Colston added. "This would definitely be a game where I feel like if I can get out there and make an impact, this would be the one."

The Panthers (4-2) are tied for first in the NFC South with Tampa Bay and Atlanta. The Saints (3-3) are close behind.

Patten missed the past three games with a sore groin, but was off the injury report entirely on Thursday, while Colston and Shockey remained officially listed as limited.

Coach Sean Payton said Patten, who has nine catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in three games, was close to 100 percent. He stopped short of saying Shockey and Colston were ready to come back, but continued to speak well of their progress.

The Saints also waived tight end Sean Ryan, who was New Orleans' third option at that position while Shockey was out last week.

</center>'s Michael Fabiano has Saints WR Marques Colston's Week 7 fantasy ranking rising fast. See where he ranks in the top 10:

» 1.:Andre Johnson
» 2.:Brandon Marshall
» 3.:Steve Smith
» 4.:Reggie Wayne
» 5.:Plaxico Burress
» 6.:Greg Jennings
» 7.: Terrell Owens

» 8.: Randy Moss

» 9.:*Marques Colston*
» 10.:Santana Moss

Through the first three games of the season, Shockey was the Saints' second-leading receiver with 16 catches for 151 yards. He has spent most of the past few games standing next to Payton on the sideline. Payton even joked that he needed to get Shockey back on the field because the flamboyant Texan was "driving me nuts standing next to me with a towel in his hand."

"Jeremy really wants to be involved," Brees added, smiling at Shockey's towel-waving sideline antics.

Shockey said he appreciated the way the Saints' allowed him to remain as involved as possible during his injury.

"Anything I can do to help my teammates, if I can just give them one piece of advice or they see me jumping up and down like a lunatic and it helps them, hey, it's the only thing I can do," said Shockey, who went on to contrast his treatment in New Orleans to the way he thought he was marginalized by the Giants after he broke his leg last December.

"Last year was handled very unprofessional by the Giants, what they did to me and not wanting me even to go to the Super Bowl," Shockey said. "That's the past. Everyone here at this organization -- it's first-class here and I think that when we go to the Super Bowl, I'll be playing in it."

Payton allowed running back Reggie Bush to have limited work in practice Thursday. It's not uncommon for coaches to allow running backs to get extra rest during the week.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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