Wednesday is a big day for New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma as it will be the first time he will take to the practice field since the week leading up to the team's playoff game in San Francisco last season.
Vilma of course is still fighting the bounty charges and punishments but since he has appealed he is still allowed to play football. Vilma is recovering from a left knee injury suffered last season and has had numerous procedures to try and get healthy enough to return to action.
The Saints placed Vilma on the physically unable to perform list back in Week 2 and is now eligible to come off of that list.
“It will be a huge boost,” says fellow linebacker Scott Shanle of the chance to play with Vilma again on Sunday. “Playing a lot of football with Jonathan, understanding not only what he brings as a football player but as a leader having him out there in the huddle would be a huge boost. I think everybody if that happens will be very excited and just the anticipation of that possibly happening, guys are excited.”
That excitement is clear to see in the Saints locker room. “It’s a sense of excitement. We finally get one of our guys, one of our leaders whose been our captain and our guy for a while around here,” safety Roman Harper says of Vilma’s return. “I’m excited to see him actually fly around and get to hit somebody. I know he’s excited for those opportunities and we’re excited to have him back. You can never have too many good players.”
It hasn't been pretty this year so far when it comes to the Saints defense as they are ranked last in the NFL in overall defense. The Saints surrender 283.2 yards per game in the air and 172.8 yards per game on the ground. “We know what we get with a football and we know what we get in a leader with Vilma so look forward to having him back,” said cornerback Jabari Greer.
“Just having him this week is going to be huge for us and it’s just one more player we can add that will definitely help us and make us better instantly,” says safety Malcolm Jenkins. “We’re excited about it and we haven’t made a big deal of it because he’s been around. We've seen him so we’re excited to plug him in.”
It’s obvious that Vilma returning to the field and simply being in the locker room has defensive players amped up but the question still remains as to where to play him? Curtis Lofton has played middle linebacker this season and has done an excellent job per his teammates.
Finding a role and spot for Vilma, at least if you ask Saints defenders, is simply something you have to do. “We’re professionals. We all realize what opportunity we have and you can never have enough good football players,” says Greer who insists that if giving Vilma snaps means reducing snaps for other players can be handled by the team. “Our pride is in check. We realize that when he comes back we’re going to get him on the field. I don’t think that one player has to suffer because of it. We just complement each other.”
The task of finding that role falls to defensive coordinator Steve Spaguolo and it is something that he has been thinking about. “I’ve talked to Jonathan. I’ve talked to Curtis (Lofton). I've talked to a bunch of the linebackers. Open conversation is always good. We have a bunch of team players and we’ll figure it out.”