It was back to work for the New Orleans Saints today as they got in a bonus practice coming off of their bye week. Sunday the team will take on the 2-3 Buccaneers in Tampa Bay.
The team was given six days off to heal up and get refreshed for what they hope will be post season run. “It looked like it paid off today with practice. We had a good practice,” said interim head coach Aaron Kromer Monday who spends his last week as the man in charge. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt's suspension ends following the game Sunday. “They were fast. We almost had a full length of time of a normal practice as a bonus practice today and I thought they came back with the energy and the focus that they needed and got a head start on Tampa Bay.”
Wednesday is the first day the NFL requires teams to submit an official injury report so the Saints did not give one out on Monday but there were hints that the team is getting healthier. Last week there were several players nicked up and a few that did not play in the game against San Diego.
Cornerback Jabari Greer re-injured his groin in the game against the Chargers and there is hope he will be ready for Tampa Bay. “He did some things today, but he’s battling that injury,” said Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo after practice. “It’s an up-and-down thing. I feel bad for him because it’s tough enough in this league to play corner out there on the edge on that island so to speak, and yet he’s been fighting through an injury doing it. It would be nice to get him back healthy. Hopefully, the week has helped.”
The Saints official Twitter site tweeted a picture that showed receiver Lance Moore dressed and stretching which is a good sign since he missed the Chargers game with a hamstring injury.
Vilma cannot officially come off the list until after the Monday night football game is completed. Vilma on Friday filed an appeal to the latest NFL reaffirmation bounty penalties and he is allowed to play until that appeal is heard. The NFL has scheduled to hear the appeal for Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove next Tuesday.
"It’s my understanding that he’ll be able to practice on Wednesday, which I think is a great thing for our football team and defense,” Spaguolo said of Vilma’s availability. “My understanding is Will Smith’s status hasn't changed until somebody tells me differently. He’s out there practicing and away we go. Do we have some things to figure out? Yes, but it’s a good problem to have.”
That problem is where to play Vilma and how much can he play? Vilma hasn’t participated in any team activities during the off-season, preseason or regular season since he is recovering from knee surgery. Curtis Lofton is currently the middle linebacker. David Hawthorne is still recovering from an injury as is linebacker Jonathan Casillas. So does Vilma play a position other than middle linebacker or perhaps splits time with Lofton as he works his way back?
“It’s not figured out today, but it will be. I know one thing it’s good to have a guy like Jonathan Vilma ready to go,” says Spagnuolo. “We know he’s a long way away and he does, too. But you just have to love the guy. He loves playing, competing, being with the guys and wants to be out there. They all do, so we’ll get it figured out.”
It is hard to imagine Vilma being able to come in and make a huge impact. Working out and getting in shape on your own in the weight room, or running the field is one thing, but being football ready is a whole other ball game. A realistic outlook would be that Vilma can come in and spell Lofton if he needs a breather. Plus, if the appeal doesn't go Vilma’s way, which I don’t so why the THIRD time around commissioner Roger Goodell will change his mind, then it doesn't make much sense to disrupt things too much if Vilma eventually has to serve a suspension.
Vilma’s plight aside, the Saints have their own team worries to deal with as they come out of the bye week at 1-4. Atlanta leads the NFC South by being the only undefeated team in the NFL with a record of 6-0. The Bucs are 2-3 and the Panthers are 1-4.
Tampa is coming off of a 38-10 win at home over Kansas City. New head coach Greg Schiano has brought toughness to the team and in the three losses Tampa could have won at least two of those. The Bucs held a 24-13 lead at New York before losing to the Giants 41-34. Dallas won 16-10 and against Washington the Bucs failed to hold onto a 22-21 lead with 1:42 to play.
“We know what is ahead of us,” says Kromer of the upcoming opponent. “Tampa Bay has a very strong defense and they did a nice job against Kansas City yesterday. We know it’s a formidable opponent, we are at their place, and it’s a divisional rivalry. We need to play our best football to win on the road and we can do that.”
The Saints and Bucs split the season series last season with each team winning on their own home field.