Saints ready to throw 1-2 punch

BY BRETT MARTEL

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – The New Orleans Saints have their first chance to see what type of problems Deuce McAllister and versatile rookie running back Reggie Bush can cause an opposing defense.

And football fans across the country will get to see it on national TV as the Saints host the Dallas Cowboys at what is essentially a neutral stadium in Shreveport, La., tonight.

“It's going to be interesting to see how teams play us and see how things play out,” said McAllister, who will get the first real test of his surgically repaired knee.

Bush already has one good NFL highlight under his belt – a 44-yard gain during which he reversed field on a broken play during his first exhibition game against Tennessee last week. McAllister, the Saints' all-time leading rusher with 4,529 yards, hasn't played since Week 5 of 2005, when he tore a ligament in his right knee.

He has looked strong in practice, however, and was kept out of the preseason opener Aug. 12 for precautionary reasons.

“Deuce, I'm anxious to see how he's doing,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He's progressed, believe it or not, in seven or eight days from a health standpoint when you watch him.”

Payton to show skills, too?

Dallas safety Roy Williams suspects Payton, who was a Cowboys assistant coach the last three seasons, also is eager to show a national audience what kind of offensive strategist he is.

“We know what Coach Payton is going to do,” Williams said. “This is his big highlight game. It's a Monday night and he's going to show us up, and we're looking forward to it.”

The Cowboys have to wait once again before seeing Terrell Owens in a game. Bothered by a sore hamstring, Owens spent much of training camp riding an exercise bike. Owens returned to the practice field in pads last week, shortly after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Owens needed to learn how to practice at less than 100 percent.

However, Dallas coach Bill Parcells said Owens will have to practice more before he can get into a game.

“I don't think you can play pro football practicing four to five days. I think you need more than that,” Parcells said.

Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who did not play in the Cowboys' preseason opener, is expected to start.

Parcells and Payton should have a decent idea what each other is up to, since they worked together the last three seasons.

Payton, who began his NFL coaching career as an assistant in Philadelphia for two seasons and the New York Giants for four, sought out an assistant's job under Parcells before landing his first head coaching job in New Orleans this season.

Parcells described Payton this week as energetic, enthusiastic and bright, but wavered when asked if Payton was ready for a head coaching job.

“I don't think you ever know if a guy is ready. In fact, I think most of the guys are not ready. I know I wasn't ready. That's the truth,” Parcells said. “I was in there and it almost got screwed up. It really did.”

I was very close to being off the cliff. But you get lucky, somebody throws you a raft.”

Payton is keeping a close eye on kick coverage, the linebackers and the offensive line, all of whom struggled in the preseason opener. The Saints will be without starting guard Jermane Mayberry, while the other projected first-team guard, Montrae Holland, could play but isn't expected to start as he recovers from knee soreness.

“It's the same challenge that's probably going on in the other 31 camps. Nobody's trotting their first group out there completely 100 percent healthy without any nicks,” Payton said.

New Orleans also has yet to see new quarterback Drew Brees lead the first team offense into the end zone.

Brees will have one of the Saints' better receivers in the lineup this week in Donte Stallworth, playing for the first time as he comes back from offseason shoulder surgery. Stallworth is battling Devery Henderson to become the second receiver behind Joe Horn.

Between those receivers, McAllister and Bush, the Saints expect someone to score a touchdown while the first team is on the field.

“We've got a lot of talented athletes here,” Bush said. “There should be no reason why we shouldn't be putting points up on the board and scoring touchdowns.”