"I feel good," said Brees, who missed the past two weeks with a strained oblique. "Today was my first day to kind of be full-go. I've been taking it very slow, very deliberate. No use in rushing something that could get worse. I wanted to make sure it was all good.
"I'm still not 100 percent, but I hope that by Saturday I am."
The Saints' injury report was full of good news on Sunday, with guard Jahri Evans, cornerback Keenan Lewis and receiver Marques Colston among those also back to full participation. And coach Sean Payton said he expects safety Jairus Byrd to step up his work to full-team drills on Monday, though Byrd was absent from Sunday's session.
Brees said he expects to play about one half of football against the Colts on Saturday night, which is his typical workload in a third preseason game.
"I don't expect to be limited at all," Brees said. "I wouldn't play if I was limited. That's not smart. My goal -- this entire time, the minute I got hurt, the minute I kind of got the prognosis was, 'Alright, I'm going to be really smart, I'm going to take it one day at a time and I'm going to be playing in that Indy game.' That's my goal."
Brees said he was able to make every throw while warming up before the Saints' second preseason game last Friday night, but it wouldn't have made sense to try and push it.
Brees did, however, stress that he would have missed at least one game even if the injury occurred during the regular season. Both he and Payton said they didn't want to risk further aggravation because of the nature of the injury.
"It's not one of those things where you're just battling through the pain until I can get back," Brees said. "I had an MCL a couple of years back and it was kind of that. As long as I braced it up and it was stable -- there was pain involved but it's going to get better as I'm playing. This does not get better if you keep playing. It gets much, much worse. This is something that needed rest. I couldn't do the things that are required of me as a quarterback to generate that type of power and leverage throwing the football without just resting it for a while."
True to form, though, Brees said he tried to find every way possible to benefit from his hiatus.
"I really tried to look at it in a positive way. That is, 'What can I see, what can I absorb, what can I focus on that maybe I'm not able to when I'm actually out there getting reps?' " said Brees, who has never missed a regular-season game due to injury in his 14-year NFL career -- despite undergoing a major shoulder surgery following the 2005 season.
"I kind of equate it to when I got benched back in San Diego for five games," Brees said. "You step back and you see things from kind of this 10,000-foot spread and you're like, 'Oh, interesting.' I went and sat with the defense during team period at times and just listened to coaches talk to defenders, what they were saying, the defensive call, just how they were playing, leverage, disguises, certain things.
"I became a better player in two weeks even though I didn't take a snap at quarterback."
The Saints' practice was somewhat abbreviated Sunday, with players wearing shoulder pads and shorts. Payton said the better test for Brees will come in a full practice on Monday. And Payton stressed that it's important to make sure that Brees continues to feel good, rather than getting caught up in Saturday as a target date for his return.
"I want to make sure that we're not looking at the date ahead of the injury," Payton said. "But today he went full participation. And I think he's feeling a lot better. I think the time we gave it with regards to the injury was important."
Payton said it was mostly coincidence that so many veterans are returning from injuries heading toward the third preseason game. But it's also clear that the Saints felt like they had the luxury to wait until now on several of their nagging ailments. Receiver Kenny Stills was another one who ramped up his workload a bit on Sunday. And guard Ben Grubbs also appears close to making his preseason debut this week.
When Evans was asked if he would've been able to play with his back issue if it were a regular-season game, he said, "I'm glad it wasn't." He said he probably would've tried to play but was glad he had time to address the issue instead.