The New Orleans Saints received a boost of energy it appears as the team returned to practice Wednesday afternoon outside. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma provided that spark as he fully participated as expected. Sunday the Saints travel to take on the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.
Vilma has been recovering from a lingering knee injury and at the same time battling the NFL’s bounty punishment of him to stay on the field. “The fact that he was out there practicing today, it kind of puts a smile on everybody’s face knowing what he’s been through and having the opportunity to get him back,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said following practice.
Vilma was not in the locker room during the media availability time after practice but plenty of his teammates were more than happy to tell us what it was like to have number 51 back on the field.
“It was cool man I think it brought a little bit of energy to the practice,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “Guys were excited to see him back. I know I’m happy to see him back and he’ll contribute this week and whenever he is on the field he makes us better as a defense.”
Vilma seems to have added a little pep to everyone’s step on the defensive side of the ball but it is what he also brings on game days that could help his teammates. “Leadership is something that you really can’t coach and you really can’t fake. He’s a great natural born leader,” says Jenkins. “Whenever he steps out there his presence does bring a sense of leadership that you really can’t get out of other people. I’m a captain but I know that it’s different when Jonathan steps out there. So to have him back even if he’s not a hundred percent or we don’t know how long it will be but just for one game it’s going to be big for us.”
“I think it was great having Vilma back. He’s worked very hard to be back in the position to be able to play,” Lofton said post practice. “Watching him today he looked great. He looked like the Jonathan Vilma I know and watched and it’s exciting to get him back.”
Saints fans have been chiming in via talk shows or social media about how having Lofton and Vilma on the field at the same time could be a good thing for the NFL’s worst ranked defense. Lofton hinted at where they played Wednesday at practice by saying he and Vilma are capable of playing middle and weak-side linebacker but said they were still working the kinks out. “We’re still working everything out right now but I've been in the middle and been making all the calls and all the adjustments but hey it’s also good to have somebody else come in,” Lofton says of how practice went. “J.V. he’s been the leader of this defense for many years and you can’t have too many leaders and too many communicators out on the field at once.”
The Saints will take any help given to them and if Vilma’s return provides a spark so be it. The team is facing a tough road ahead over the next 11 games as they’ll face teams that look to be playoff teams. The bye week you might have thought provided the Saints an opportunity to look back at what kept the team from playing the kind of football we all were expecting to see. The 1-4 start apparently was bad enough that reliving it made no sense.
“If I wanted to throw up, I would have,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees says of the decision not to go back and look at the first few games of the season. “We put those to bed a long time ago. What we've seen is we've gotten better here. We've improved. We still have a long way to go but it gets you excited about the possibilities and the potential of this offense and this team. For us, last week was ‘hey, let’s get rested, healthy, rejuvenated here and prepared to make this run. We have quite a mountain to climb, but that’s okay because we have a bunch of climbers in our locker room and we’ll take it one at a time. It starts this week on the road in the division.”
There was good news and bad news today as the Saints gave out their first injury report of the week. The good news is that four Saints were listed as full participation after being on hurt the last time a report was given.
Wide receiver Lance Moore (hamstring), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (neck), defensive end Turk McBride (ankle), and running back Travaris Cadet (shoulder) all were back.
Cornerback Jabari Greer (groin) and right guard Jahri Evans (toe) practiced on a limited basis.
The bad news is that tight end Jimmy Graham did not practice. He sprained his ankle back against San Diego and while he played the whole game with it Kromer said he ran around Wednesday but was not ready to practice.
Linebacker David Hawthorne (hamstring) and linebacker Scott Shanle (illness) were also held out of practice.