The Vikings came out of a hard-hitting Thursday practice still on track for the return of three injured starters for Sunday night's game at New Orleans.
Center Matt Birk (ankle), weakside linebacker Chris Claiborne (calf) and tight end Jermaine Wiggins (hand) practiced Wednesday and Thursday. Birk and Claiborne will play, barring a setback. Wiggins is listed as questionable, but coach Mike Tice said he "looked excellent" in practice.
Wiggins, the pass-catching free agent signed this past offseason, hasn't played since breaking his left hand at Philadelphia in the second game of the season. He is wearing a small custom-made brace that allows him to catch the ball, he said.
"I know it's a go for me this week," Wiggins said. "I took some good hits on the hand, some shots, caught some balls. Once the game starts, I'll probably forget I have (the brace) on."
Claiborne ran better Thursday than he did Wednesday. He said he'll be at full speed by Sunday, although he has said that before and been wrong.
Birk played the final three snaps last week at Houston after Cory Withrow left the game because of torn knee cartilage. Withrow is out this week. Billy Conaty was re-signed to back up Birk.
The Saints didn't make a trade for cornerback Mike McKenzie to watch him sit on the sideline, so it was no surprise to see him working with the first-team defense this week.
McKenzie replaced Fred Thomas, a three-year starter, in the lineup on Wednesday and will start at left cornerback in Sunday night's game with the Minnesota Vikings in the Superdome. Left cornerback Ashley Ambrose will slide to the right side with Thomas taking over as the nickel back.
"I'm really just charged up for the opportunity to get out there and play this Sunday," said McKenzie, who was obtained from the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 4. "Everything is set for us. It's a real big game. We definitely need to find a way to get a `W' and get our record back to even-steven. I couldn't ask for a better situation, a better game, at home, against the Vikings."
McKenzie, who did not suit up against the Tampa Bay Bucs last week because he was still learning the Saints' defense, has a history with the Vikings and All-Pro wideout Randy Moss. McKenzie played against them twice a year since coming into the league as a third-round draft pick in 1999, so the Saints are hoping his experience will be put to good use right away.
Thomas has been bothered by injuries to his ribs, groin and foot this season, wasn't happy with the demotion. But he understood that a change was coming when the Saints got McKenzie.
"With the way our team has been performing and with our record, I can honestly say I'm one of the guys who didn't perform to my expectations," Thomas said. "The coaches said this was a perfect time for Mike to make his debut and I just have to go on with it.
"In this league, you need three to four solid corners anyway. From the first to the fourth corner, we're all starters. A lot of teams use three and four wide receivers, so I'm going to be on the field a lot."
Saints coach Jim Haslett said McKenzie's familiarity with the Vikings should make for a smooth transition.
"He'll know the Vikings' personnel and what they're trying to do, but he's got to know what we're trying to accomplish," Haslett said. "He was here all day Tuesday and Tuesday night with the coaches, and he was in early Wednesday. So when the gun goes off Sunday, he'll be ready to go."