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Saints QB Drew Brees says he plans to start vs. Arizona on Sunday

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METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton said he might wait until Sunday to name his starting quarterback. But Drew Brees hopes to make the decision easy for him.

When asked if he is playing Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, Brees said, "That's the plan. We'll see."

Brees said he felt good throwing the football when he returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday -- just five weeks after having thumb surgery on his throwing hand. He said the decision will come down to "just making sure I can be me."

And when asked if it strictly will be his decision, Brees said, "I'll tell Sean if I'm ready, and he'll believe me."

Payton told the Arizona media that Brees has been medically cleared, and that it is just a matter of making sure he has the proper strength "and all those things necessary" to throw the ball effectively.

When Brees was asked if there is any greater risk of re-injury now than there would be after the Week 9 bye, he seemed to suggest that is not a factor in the decision.

"I mean listen, it's not fully healed I think until three months. But that internal brace obviously provides some stability and support, as does the splint," Brees said of both an internal brace that was installed when he had surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb on Sept. 18 and an external splint that he is likely to wear when he returns.

When asked what would prevent him from playing, Brees said, "If I felt like, you know, hey, the ball is not coming out the way it needs to, right? Not as comfortable, not as confident, not as accurate. Those things will be factored."

But he said that so far, there hasn't been an issue.

"I do (feel like me). But I gotta get into practice and get some live reps," Brees said. "I need some competition."

Brees went into great detail about each step of the rehab process Wednesday -- even grabbing a football out of his locker to demonstrate how much strength and extension is required to grip a football and apply pressure with the thumb. (He also showed off his scar to those who were interested.)

He said he had to start by throwing smaller footballs -- and that he literally "raided" his kids' supply of Nerf balls and flag footballs so that he could gradually go up in size and weight. He said he has been throwing a regulation NFL ball for the past two weeks.

"That was probably the hardest part was just getting it to where I could grip the ball again and grip it with authority," Brees said. "You know, grip it with strength, and then be able to guide the ball and maneuver the ball out of my hand."

The Saints (6-1) have continued to thrive in Brees' absence, with veteran backup Teddy Bridgewater going 5-0 in his place. But Payton made it clear that when Brees is healthy, "he'll be in starting and playing."

Payton said the timing of the bye week will have zero factor on his decision -- nor will the opponent.

"Look, this game coming up this week for Arizona and for us is a unit. It's just as important as a game three weeks from now or five weeks from now," Payton said of the Cardinals, who have won three straight games to raise their record to 3-3-1 despite having a bottom-five defense in both yards allowed and points allowed. "That's something I think a lot of people from the outside say, 'Well, let's rest him one more week, then we have a bye week.' Look, if he's ready to play, he's ready to play. This game's an important game, just as the first game after the bye is important. So our approach will be just that."

As for the rest of the Saints' banged-up roster, running back Alvin Kamara (ankle, knee), tight end Jared Cook (ankle) and cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring) were among those who did not practice during Wednesday's light walk-through session. The Saints did release backup running back Zach Zenner on Tuesday without replacing him on the roster -- which could be a sign of optimism for Kamara. But we should learn more about his status based on his practice participation on Thursday and Friday.