As if the New Orleans Saints weren't dealing with enough problems, now they'll have to get by without one of the NFL's most versatile players.
Running back and return specialist Darren Sproles underwent surgery for a broken hand and won't be able to play Monday night when the Saints (2-5) take on the Philadelphia Eagles at the Superdome.
Interim coach Joe Vitt revealed the injury after Monday's practice, though he wouldn't say which hand was hurt. Sproles will be re-evaluated next week to determine if he can play against the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons.
Sproles set an NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards last season and is a vital part of the Saints' offence and special teams. He ranks second on the team in receiving (39 receptions, 323 yards, four touchdowns), third in rushing (26 carries, 117 yards) and handles both kickoffs (averaging 28.7 yards per return) and punts (a 6.6-yard average).
"We have pretty good running backs around here and this is part of the National Football League with injuries," Vitt said. "It's next man up. We will miss Darren Sproles, but this is going to be a great opportunity for some of our other running backs to receive some more reps and show what they can do."
The greater concern is who will take over the returns. Rookie Travaris Cadet handled those duties at Appalachian State and got a look in both roles during the preseason. Receiver Lance Moore also has experience returning punts.
"I'm sorry about Darren's injury," Cadet said. "But if my number is called, I'm here to step up and help the team."
Even with Sproles, the Saints rank last in the NFL in rushing yards. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are likely to continue getting the bulk of the carries, and Chris Ivory could finally get an expanded role. He led the team in rushing as a rookie in 2010, but hasn't carried the ball at all this season.
"We're going to have to have a few guys that pick up the slack," offensive co-ordinator Pete Carmichael said. "Chris has been patient. He's been great. He's been out at every practice and has given us his all, his best effort. This will be a chance for him to get some opportunities."