Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter

METAIRIE, La. Right tackle Zach Strief returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since injuring his right knee a month ago.

Four key contributors, however, missed practice.

Running back Mark Ingram (heel), linebackers Jonathan Casillas (right knee) and Jonathan Vilma (left knee) and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (right ankle) all did not practice the first day the Saints were on the field preparing for Sunday's game at St. Louis.

Tight ends John Gilmore (neck), Jimmy Graham (right ankle) and David Thomas (concussion) and linebacker Will Herring (left hamstring) were limited.

For Strief, the return was a long-time coming. He went down on Sept. 25 in New Orleans' win over Houston.

'He's doing well,' Saints coach Sean Payton said. 'I'd say he's on schedule with the MCL. It's good to see him back out there. He is able to get some football work in and today was a big step for him.'

Strief said he started running nearly a week and a half ago, but Wednesday was the key landmark he was searching for in his rehabilitation.

'I think that that's the biggest milestone is to get back out and practice and run around with the guys,' Strief said. 'We'll see where it goes this week. It felt good today and we'll advance as we go.'

One factor in quickening the healing process is having Payton in the training room while he rehabilitates his knee.

'I'll tell ya the dynamic changes in the training room a little bit when the coach is sitting in the training room all the time,' Strief said. 'It's a little bit quieter.'

Meanwhile, Ingram's injury isn't one that Payton knows if it's a long-term one or not.

'I think with him it's day-to-day because you're really just dealing with soreness and a bruise,' Payton said. 'Tomorrow morning we'll see how he's feeling and keep track of his progress.'

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