METAIRIE, La. (AP) -Slender but speedy defensive end Bobby McCray came to New Orleans with the goal of restoring his reputation as a pass-rusher extraordinaire.
With Charles Grant and Will Smith secure in their starting spots at his position, McCray could sit out a number of grueling short-yardage plays, then come in fresh with his all-out, outside rush in passing situations.
Not anymore.
Grant's season-ending triceps injury means the Saints will be expecting a lot more of the 6-foot-5, 250-pound McCray, who calmly contends he's ready to take on a larger role despite the fact that the typical offensive tackle outweighs him by 50 pounds or more.
``When I decided to come here, I wanted to play a role of rotating with great D-ends with Charles and Will, but unfortunately the tables are turned. Charles is down and I'll have to step into that role full-time,'' McCray said. ``It's not a problem. I've been doing it the past four years in Jacksonville. I've been a starter. It's just more plays and a better chance of me making bigger plays.''
McCray was solid in his initial role with the Saints. Through the first eight games of this season, he was tied with Grant for the team lead in sacks with three and tied with Smith for second in quarterback hurries with five.
He has 10 tackles overall, a figure that could increase dramatically now that he'll be playing more in running situations.
McCray started 21 games the past two seasons in Jacksonville, so his next start in Atlanta on Sunday will be nothing new to him. What remains to be seen is whether he can play more downs and still bring the same quickness to his pass rush in the fourth quarter.
``I never want to change my pace. I'm going to try to keep the same pace and learn how to program myself to do this week in and week out,'' McCray said. ``I'm going to try to stay in as much as I can, be in the best shape I can be - work my lungs to the max.''
McCray is now in his fifth NFL season out of Florida, where he was named to the All-SEC second team defense his senior year. Jacksonville took him with their seventh-round choice in the 2004 draft and McCray ended up starting seven games in his rookie season. He has been a regular ever since.
His best year was 2006, when he started 12 games and had 10 sacks. Last season, his sack total fell to three. When he became a free agent, the Saints lured him to New Orleans, hoping he would rebound with a better season in a new system.
starting role, Saints coach Sean Payton said. ``His (snaps) had increased prior to Charles' injury. ... He's a guy that we certainly have confidence in.''
When Grant was placed on injured reserve Monday, the Saints were able to re-sign nose tackle Hollis Thomas, who had been released in training camp after tearing his triceps and reaching an injury settlement with the club. The Saints hope Thomas, paired with rookie first-round draft pick Sedrick Ellis on the interior line, can cause enough trouble for opposing blockers to take pressure off of McCray and Smith.
``Bobby's a great pass rusher and he can stop the run also,'' Smith said. ``So I think that having ... me Bobby and Sedrick in there, and Hollis if he plays the nose, I think we can get a tremendous push and get up the field.''
Payton said Saints reserve defensive end Jeff Charleston, a second-year pro out of Idaho State who played in 13 games for the Indianapolis Colts last season, will rotate in more as well to spell McCray and Smith as needed.
There are only three defensive ends on the Saints' active roster right now, while a fourth, third-year pro Josh Savage, is on the practice squad. Smith may have to serve a four-game suspension this season for using a banned diuretic, but has appealed. If the appeal fails, Savage could be signed to the active roster.
In the meantime, McCray looks forward to the chance to show his critics that he can again play well as an every-down defensive end.
``People see speed and think you're supposed to just stay on the outside and not run through people,'' McCray said. ``I've never been manhandled by any tackle. People are going to perceive what they want to perceive, but it's just about going in and showing that you can do it.''

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