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Deuce McAllister is looking forward to a milestone – an actual game, with actual hits.
Training camp, he says, doesn't count, and neither does Thursday night's preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, a game McAllister will skip.
"Once I go through a session where it really matters, then I'll count it as a milestone, but this was just another day for me," McAllister said.
And no, just taking a hit in practice doesn't count either.
"My teammates won't really be trying to take me out like they would in a game."
The Saints running back fielded questions about his knee at training camp, but said he wasn't worried about whether he could still bring a top-tier running game to the table. This is his second knee surgery in three years, after all. He knows what to expect.
"Coming off of two knee surgeries, the doubts and questions of whether I can or can't, that's for you to discuss," he said. "As far as going out there and playing the game, I know that to be where I want to be, I have to do something ‘special' and that was putting in a lot of time in the training room, a lot of time in the weight room and conditioning my body and getting it ready."
McAllister fielded the same questions after the 2005 season, which was cut short due to a knee injury. He rushed for just 355 yards in 2005. After rehabilitating his knee he returned in 2006 to find himself with a new backfield mate in Reggie Bush and a new lease on football life. McAllister rushed for 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns, as the Saints made their triumphant return to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and reached the NFC Championship game.
But McAllister missed out on most of last season's struggles. The Saints finished 7-9 and McAllister rushed for only 92 yards before tearing up his left knee during the season's third game. In addition, McAllister had microfracture surgery on his right knee.
That nearly forced the Saints into releasing their all-time leading rusher. Unsure of McAllister's status, the Saints and the veteran back — who is the Saints' all-time leading rusher — came to an agreement to defer some of his salary, allowing McAllister to remain on the roster and prove to the Saints that he could be ready for 2008.
So far, mostly so good. Aside from an MRI on one of the knees last week — trainers also drained fluid from the knee — McAllister has shown progress during camp. He isn't practicing every day, but the goal is to get him ready for the regular season.
So McAllister's training camp focus for his knee is endurance and getting it used to cuts and the grind of an NFL daily schedule.
"It's about going out there and going against a live defense and getting tackled and getting up and doing it again and doing it for four quarters. I could go into the training room and the weight room as much as I want; I know what I have to do," he said.
Quarterback Drew Brees said McAllister looked great on the field.
With expectations high coming off a 7-9 2007 season, Brees said, "the approach and process has changed a little bit" after the 7-9 2007 season. "We're learning from the mistakes that we made and we're really making the emphasis in the right areas."
For McAllister, even beyond showing he can bounce back from two knee surgeries at age 29, is helping the Saints win the NFC South for the second time in three years.
"I think everyone understands that on this team we have one common goal. If we win the division, we qualify for the playoffs and after that, it's anybody's game. If we can protect our home field and win our division, then we qualify," he said.