METAIRIE, La. -- The New Orleans Saints have never specified the nature of fullback Erik Lorig’s leg injury. But clearly it’s not a minor issue, since Lorig hasn’t even watched a practice in street clothes since first suffering the injury during a scrimmage on Aug. 2.
The fact that the Saints immediately went out and signed veteran fullback Greg Jones was another indicator that they didn’t expect Lorig back quickly.
It’s still unknown when or if Lorig is expected back this season. But coach Sean Payton said the team will prepare as if he’s not going to be ready for Week 1, with Jones and third-year pro Austin Johnson competing to serve as Lorig’s replacement.
"Our preparation's got to be with the idea that, as Erik's rehabbing, we've got to be ready to have a fullback Week 1, with the chance it's not going to be Erik," Payton said. "And so both of those guys are competing.
“Greg’s a veteran player. Austin's been with us now for the better part of a year and a half. And so I think, No. 1, Austin's had a good camp. Greg's been here for two weeks. Both of them will play a lot again this weekend [Saturday night at Indianapolis].”
Payton later added that Johnson is “doing real well.” The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder spent most of last season on the Saints’ practice squad after signing with the team in January 2013. Johnson was actually a linebacker in college at Tennessee, and he signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012. But he didn’t find a permanent home that season.
Johnson has shown potential as a blocker and receiver out of the backfield, and he could also be used on special teams.
Meanwhile Jones, 33, is a 10-year veteran who spent last season with the Houston Texans and his first nine years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. The 6-1, 251-pounder has primarily served as a lead blocker in 131 career games played. He also has a total of 272 carries for 913 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, plus 73 receptions for 471 yards and three touchdowns.
Last season, Jones played in all 16 games for the Texans with five starts, with a total of two rushes for 2 yards and five receptions for 34 yards.
The Saints could also use their tight ends as fullbacks in certain situations. Second-year tight end Josh Hill has made some cameos in that role.