METAIRIE, La. — Jonathan Vilma promises he won’t look at the beginning of this training camp any differently than anyone else who plays for New Orleans.
“I don’t (need to look at it as being) about a new sense of excitement because of what happened last year,” Vilma said. “It’s a new season so we’re excited about coming in, (getting a) fresh start and everyone is 0-0. Everyone has high aspirations.”
But Vilma is oversimplifying his situation compared to that of his teammates.
Vilma spent the better part of 2012 rehabilitating from a knee procedure that some may describe as a last-ditch effort to get him healthy enough to continue his football career.
And when he wasn’t rehabilitating his knee, he was defending himself in the court of public opinion as well as U.S. District Court. Named as a key member of what the NFL termed a pay-for-injury bounty program, Vilma was originally suspended for the entirety of the 2012 season.
Through appeals, however, Vilma – as well as the others suspended – were given their NFL lives back.
The four-time Saints defensive team captain played in the final 11 games of 2012, finishing with 49 tackles, a sack and an interception after spending the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.
That, however, is in the past and Vilma, as well as his teammates, are looking at the present.
Coach Sean Payton, for one, likes what he sees.
“He’s probably healthier than he has in the past year, year and a half,” Payton said. “He has put a lot of hard work into his rehab. It was evident when we saw him in the spring and now seeing him go through the workout (Thursday). He trains pretty hard.”
Added safety Roman Harper, “He’s taking advantage of every day. He’s just happy to be out here and going where last year he wasn’t allowed to do that.”
Vilma didn’t come back to the same position that he left, though. Curtis Lofton took over at middle linebacker at the beginning of 2012 and held onto the position when Vilma made his return.
At this point, though, Vilma appears to have resumed his role of calling the defense on the field from his inside linebacker position next to Lofton in New Orleans’ new 3-4 defense.
It helps, Vilma said, that they had the time together in ’12.
“Last year, there were a lot of uncertainties, especially if I was going to keep playing, or wasn’t going to keep playing (and) what position was I going to play when I got back,” Vilma said. “Now we have our roles, we have our defined roles and we’re able to play off of each other.
“It’s good for me (and) good for him where he has certain strengths and weaknesses, I have certain strengths and weaknesses and we can just play off of each other.”