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Baker hopes to be back this weekend
Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (33) gains 8 yards during second quarter action last Sunday against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif. - photo by Curtis Compton

FLOWERY BRANCH — Left tackle Sam Baker has done everything required to rehab his lower back following surgery in late October.

Now the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round draft pick hopes team doctors will clear him to play at New Orleans.

Friday marked his third straight practice Wednesday since he was injured in a Week 6 win over Chicago.

“It was real good to be out there with the guys again and just get back in the motions, mentally and physically,” Baker said. “Everything feels good. I’m just doing what the doctors are telling me.”

Coach Mike Smith, who has started Todd Weiner in Baker’s spot the last six games, was noncommital about the rookie’s status as Atlanta (8-4) continued to prepare for the Saints (6-6).

“He’s been coming along,” Smith said. “He’s looked good this week without any setbacks. He’s gone through these first (three) days with no residual effects.”

Drafted 21st overall out of Southern Cal, Baker won the starting job in training camp, but he suffered a concussion while making a tackle that followed an interception during a Week 2 loss at Tampa Bay.

He played the next game, a blowout victory over Kansas City, but the Falcons placed him on the inactive list for a Week 4 loss at Carolina.

After starting in wins at Green Bay and the following week against the Bears, Baker thought his lower back injury instead was due to pain in his hip. Once the diagnosis was confirmed, Baker underwent a discectomy, a procedure that removes herniated disc material that presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord.

“It was very, very tough sitting out,” Baker said. “More mentally than anything, it was tough. I was just laying in bed trying to get better. I pretty much just slept all day.”

Coleman improving

Free safety Erik Coleman, who suffered a bruised quadriceps in last week’s win at San Diego, returned to practice Friday after missing the previous two days.

The Falcons hope Coleman is ready, particularly after he had the first of Atlanta’s three interceptions against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on Nov. 9.

Brees tried to connect with Devery Henderson on the first play from scrimmage when Coleman picked off the 61-yard pass at the Falcons’ 35.

Coleman strained his quad last week as he broke up a pass on the Chargers’ final possession.

More aches and pains

Smith released the injury report on Friday that also listed defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), cornerback Brent Grimes (knee, quad), safety Antoine Harris (groin), nose tackle Grady Jackson (knee), receiver Laurent Robinson (hamstring), Weiner (knee), Baker and Coleman as questionable.

Kicker Jason Elam (hip) and receiver Brian Finneran (hamstring) are probable.

Jackson, who is appealing an NFL suspension for tested positive for a banned diurectic, expects to start. The league suspended six players, including three Saints (running back Deuce McAllister and defensive ends Will Smith and Charles Grant), under similar circumstances.

Grant, a former Georgia standout, was already out for the season with an injury. A federal judge on Friday blocked five of the suspensions.

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