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Tracy Porter back at Saints practice

METAIRIE, La. -- Tracy Porter hardly seemed interested in pacing himself during his first practice since training camp began.

The Saints' starting cornerback chased receivers with the first-team defense, fielded punts, and even put in some extra work after Sunday evening's practice making running, over-the-shoulder catches of balls shot high over his head by a machine.

After all that, Porter said he was ahead of schedule on his recovery from offseason microfracture surgery on his left knee.

"I was more than ready," Porter said. "It was more psychological than anything. ... Getting back out there, reacting to the receivers running routes, you're going to have that little doubt in your mind. But I went to the sideline and talked to one of the trainers and he was like, 'Man, you look good. Just don't think about the knee. Go out and play.' That's what I did."

Porter's return was one of several encouraging developments for New Orleans on the injury front, at least as far as prominent players are concerned.

Also at practice were receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem.

Colston had been sidelined by swelling around his surgically repaired right kneecap for more than a week. Meachem left Friday night's preseason opener against San Francisco with a lower back strain.

Colston said his knee needed rest after some heavy work in the early days of training camp.

"It's just going to be a matter of managing it and getting it football-ready," Colston said. "Going from a lot of straight line running and lifting, it's totally different when you get on the field and start running routes. You get your body in situations you really can't train for. I'm transitioning back into that and it shouldn't be an issue moving forward."

Colston said he expects to play in New Orleans' second preseason game Saturday night in Houston. Porter, however, was not as certain.

"We just want to take it day to day right now," Porter said. "The coaches, they know what type of ability I have. They have confidence in me. The last thing they want to do is to have me have a sense of urgency or have (trainers) having a sense of urgency and rushing me back out there too early and something goes wrong."

Saints coach Sean Payton said Porter is not limited, but coaches will be careful about pushing him too hard.

"It's encouraging when you take a guy like that who's a starter, so we'll be smart in regards to the snaps he gets, but he's feeling well," Payton said.

The timing of Porter's return works well for the Saints, who got a little thinner at cornerback after third-round draft choice Johnny Patrick left the preseason opener with a right knee injury. Payton said doctors have confirmed the injury is a strained medial collateral ligament.

Payton also said Joique Bell, who was the Saints' leading rusher on Friday night with 52 yards on nine carries, and who also returned a punt 28 yards, has a strained posterior cruciate ligament.

Although Bell has been working behind Pierre Thomas, rookie Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles, his ability to play running back as well as various special teams roles already has put him in prime position to earn a roster spot if he can stay healthy.

"It's something where it's just going to require rehab and rest," Payton said of Bell's injury. "He played well the other night. I thought he stood out, and he has in practices, so we'll make sure we get him healthy."

Meanwhile, Payton said he views competition open for playing time at right tackle, a spot in which Jon Stinchcomb has started since 2006. Tackle Zach Strief, brought back in free agency, has been getting more work with the first team. Payton added that Charles Brown, a 2010 second-round draft choice, could compete for that spot, as well.

"We're just wanting to make sure we're continuing to rotate those tackles," Payton said, adding that the move was not necessarily related to Stinchcomb's offseason surgery to repair a left quad tear. "We went into this camp with the idea that we wanted competition and that was part of the plan when we re-signed (Strief) and certainly part of the plan when we drafted Charles."

Game notes
With Porter returning, RB Chris Ivory (left foot, groin) and DE Greg Romeus (right knee) are the only players who have yet to practice in training camp. ... Those missing Sunday's practice included LB Ramon Humber (right quad), LB Clint Ingram (right hamstring), DT Tom Johnson (left calf), DE Jeff Charleston (ankle) and OT Alex Barron (left knee).