Saints RB Bush returns to practice; No. 3 RB Lynell Hamilton hurts right knee

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Reggie Bush returned to practice after missing one session with cramps, and he might have become even more important for the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints on Wednesday.

No. 3 running back Lynell Hamilton had to be helped off the field after tearing his right ACL during a joint practice against the New England Patriots, whom the Saints will play in the exhibition opener Thursday night. It will be New Orleans' first game since beating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17 in Miami.

Saints spokesman Greg Bensel said Hamilton, who had been effective on special teams and in short-yardage situations, has a torn ACL, an injury that usually requires a year to recover from.

"It was something that was kind of a freak deal," Payton said after the final practice.

Hamilton, who turned 25 last week, crumpled to the turf midway through Wednesday morning's practice. Trainers rushed out to attend to him, and a few minutes later he limped off the field with a trainer under each arm.

Hamilton appeared in nine games last season, starting one, running 35 times for 125 yards and two touchdowns; he also caught five passes for 48 yards.

"We saw a lot of him a year ago," Payton said. "He played quite a bit for us in the kicking game as well as on offense. He's certainly a guy that factored in last year and contributed quite a bit."

Bush tried to talk to Hamilton after the injury. "I'm hoping for the best and praying for him," Bush said before the extent of the injury was known.

Bush sat out the team portion of Tuesday afternoon's practice without explanation, then said after practice on Wednesday that he was dehydrated and began cramping up.

"Other than that, it was nothing serious," he said. "Practicing today everything was fine. It was just a little bit more precautionary than anything to make sure I was 100 percent for this preseason game tomorrow. I'll be full go tomorrow in the preseason game."

Bush split the running back duties last year with Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell while leading the Saints to their first NFL championship. Bell signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as a free agent in the offseason, and Thomas has already shaken off a left wrist injury that briefly knocked him out of practice last week.

Patriots linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said that having running backs with different styles is one reason the Saints have been so successful.

"When teams have three-headed monsters or two-headed monsters in the backfield, you've really got to know who's back there and how to play them," he said.

"They're a dynamic group and they can do a lot of things. They present different problems. Each one of them has a different style of running the ball, so you really have to know who you're up against. Reggie's a really fast explosive player and Pierre's a stronger, downhill type of runner, so you've got the best of both worlds in their backfield. So it creates problems for the defense."

The Saints have looked around for running backs, including Ladell Betts, who was released by the Washington Redskins. Also on the roster are P.J. Hill and rookie Chris Ivory.