Decision day is looming for the New Orleans Saints when it comes to the future of Deuce McAllister.
The veteran running back and the heart of the Saints the past few years is still rehabilitating his knee problems from 2007, and Saints head coach Sean Payton said on Wednesday that McAllister is on schedule.
"There's two parts to the rehab," Payton said. "There's the repaired (left) knee from the ACL last season and the surgery done to the right knee, the microfracture procedure."
Payton said McAllister is with the team during its offseason program and is working to get his weight down, even as he prepares for his wedding this weekend.
"I'm hopeful he can walk down the aisle," Payton said.
McAllister's availability to the Saints in 2008 could be another matter. Aside from McAllister's rehab, there's the matter of the $1 million roster bonus McAllister is due. He was supposed to get that last month, but he and the Saints agreed to push that back to April 15.
The Saints could pay the bonus or they could release McAllister, who is the franchise's leading rusher.
McAllister told the Baton Rouge Advocate last month that he's making progress and is hopeful that he can participate in the Saints' final mini-camp on May 29-June 1.
Payton does have his concerns about the eighth-year back, whose bruising style and resiliency from injuries has earned him a place in the hearts of fans and the lore of the franchise.
"He runs with low pad level," Payton said. "My concern is really relates to more the position and what he plays and what he has gone through. I know what he'll give us. I've got a good bead on what we have in the player. He's a strong, strong person. So I'm pulling for him and we're hoping to monitor the progress and see where he's at."
One of Payton's coaching rivals speculated about what the Saints might do with their No. 10 overall pick when asked if McAllister was the key to the Saints' hopes in 2008.
"They have a top 10 pick," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "They may take a back. You never know."
As for McAllister's partner in the backfield, Reggie Bush, he's in New Orleans as well for voluntary workouts and the Saints are confident that Bush will feel no lingering effects from his PCL injury last year.
Bush ended up rushing for 581 yards before he missed the final four games. Bush did not have a 100-yard rushing game the entire season, but he did gain a bit more than 1,000 yards combined rushing and receiving for the second straight season.
Payton said he was impressed with how prepared Bush was when he reported for the team's offseason program. He compared Bush's overall talent to that of future Hall of Fame back Marshall Faulk. The third-year back could be ready to take a larger chunk of the offense.
"I think that his approach to this offseason, where he's at now, I'm encouraged," Payton said. "And he kind of is, in some form, like a lot of our players on the team: hungry to get something started for another season, and looking forward to it. Certainly in his case, I'm excited for him because I think he'll play well."
Matthew Postins is the publisher of Saintsinsider.com. He is an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers Association.