Saints safety Sharper hopeful he can play; Gay placed on IR

All-Pro safety Darren Sharper proclaimed Wednesday that he feels good and hopes to play for the New Orleans Saints this weekend.

Wearing a brace on his left knee, Sharper practiced for the first time this season. He began the campaign on the physically unable-to-perform list while recovering from microfracture surgery.

Now in his 14th NFL season, Sharper said he feels fresh and in shape this week as the Saints prepare to host the Cleveland Browns.

"It was good to get back out there and move around and get some real practicing going on," Sharper told *The Times-Picayune*. "You know, a lot of times you feel rusty. I didn't really feel rusty. I felt like it kind of became commonplace when I got back out there and got back to the movements. It kind of felt normal. You know, practice is different from the game, though."

Saints coach Sean Payton described Sharper's first day of practice as "pretty good," but he stopped short of saying the safety would play Sunday.

"We'll see," Payton said. "I wouldn't rule it out, and yet I wouldn't say it's a definite."

The Saints have three weeks to decide if they will activate Sharper, place him on injured reserve or release him. But, Sharper said, "I don't need a two-week training camp. I'm ready to play."

The Saints, already hurting in the secondary, had to place veteran cornerback Randall Gay on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday because of lingering effects from a concussion that occurred during a Week 2 victory at San Francisco.

Gay's agent, Albert Elias, told *The Times-Picayune* that the move was mostly precautionary. Payton backed that assertion.

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"This was the best thing for him and his future, but it's a tough thing. He wanted to play," said Elias, who said Gay might have been ready in a week or two.

Said Payton: "We spent a lot of time on that decision, in visiting with not only our in-house doctors, but also the outside specialists. And we felt like it certainly was in the best interest of the player. It's disappointing when it happens this early in the season, but it's something that I'm sure was a concern, not only for the player and his family, but for us."

The Saints replaced Gay by signing cornerback Quincy Butler, who has been in the NFL off and on since 2006, when he appeared in a game with the Dallas Cowboys. He spent the past two seasons in St. Louis, appearing in 14 games for the Rams in 2009 and starting seven.

The Saints also released linebacker Clint Ingram, who had yet to practice while recovering from offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee. He started training camp and the regular season on the PUP list, and he was eligible to start practicing this week.

Payton said Monday that the plan was to have Ingram practice Wednesday, but the team later decided he wasn't ready.

Ingram, a fourth-year pro, was signed by the Saints as a free agent last winter. He spent his first three NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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