NEW ORLEANS --Darren Howard had a new experience this year.
For the first time since he was eight years old, Howard did not play
"I didn't like it, but it was a good lesson for me," the New Orleans Saints defensive end said. "I realized that I won't be
doing this forever, so I want to make the most of every game."
Howard, a second-round draft pick in 2000, was forced to the
sidelines after fracturing his right wrist in the season opener
against Seattle on Sept. 7.
One of the Saints' best defensive players, Howard led defensive
linemen in tackles last year with 56, including 44 solo hits. He
also had a team-high eight sacks, giving him 25 in two seasons.
Howard and fellow defensive end Charles Grant were supposed to
team up to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
"It's a great feeling having Darren back," said Grant, who
leads the Saints with 5½ sacks. "I think we can really get things
going out there now."
Howard was back on the practice field this week and admitted
needing some work to get back to top form.
"Anytime you sit for two or three months for anything you are
going to be a little rusty," he said. "But it's just like riding
a bike. When you get back on it, you're going to fall a couple of
times, but you are going to get right back up and take care of
Howard can't lift weights until March, so his upper body
strength may not be as good as he wants. He also has a hard cast to
wear in games and the wrist is still sore; he had surgery last week
to remove the pins.
"It's just hard to get your hands on somebody and push,"
Howard said. "But I'd rather be out there with one arm or whatever
than to be on the sideline and not be able to help."
Howard's role won't be determined until later this week, after
the Saints medical staff sees how his injured wrist responds to the extra work.
"I don't know how long he will play, and what role he will play
in, whether it is first and second down or third down," coach Jim
Haslett said. "But Darren will play some."
Howard is itching to get back in a game. Watching from the
sideline was a perspective he didn't like, but one that may have
had some benefits.
"I never did that before, but I felt like I saw the game in a
new way and learned from it," he said. "I think I can help the
team right away."
Even with the injury and his inability to lift weights, Howard
is in good shape, Haslett said. During his rehabilitation Howard
ran, rode the exercise bike and worked on his lower body strength.
"My body feels good right now," Howard said. "I've got seven
games to try to go out there and help the team out. I really don't
think I'm going to have much of a problem. Once I get out there and
the adrenaline starts flowing and I finally smell the quarterback,
I'm not going to feel it at all."