Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – The Saints are likely going into Sunday’s noon showdown with Houston with only one true middle linebacker.
Starter Jonathan Vilma (left knee) did not participate in team drills for the third day in a row and is listed as doubtful heading into the inter-conference game.
“It wasn’t a setback,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “It was just a matter of just trying to track his progress and every morning when we come in the first thing we do is go see Scottie (Patton) and see the player and see how these guys are doing. The concern is, especially at that position with what he’s doing, we want to see him at one hundred percent or at least in a percentage where he’s comfortable enough to function. I think he knows that too.”
If Vilma can’t go, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar will get the start and the bulk of the playing time at the middle position.
“That’s the scenario,” Dunbar said. “I’m not sure if he’s going or if he’s not going. If he can’t go, it’s a next man up system around here and that’s what my job is, to come in here make sure this operation runs just as smoothly as if he were here.”
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said there’s trust in Dunbar, whose natural position is middle and not outside, where he spent much of his first three seasons with New Orleans.
“Instincts. You can’t coach instincts,” Williams said of Dunbar. “You can’t coach the anticipation of knowing what the offense is going to do before it happens and he has got those kind of instincts, like (Vilma) does and a lot of those really good just nose-for-the-ball linebackers. He made a lot of really good, instinctive plays the other day.”
“It’s definitely more of a natural fit at middle linebacker because I played it for an X number of years in college and I’ve played it a lot here,” Dunbar said. “I just, again, never had the opportunity to play it in a game with Jonathan being available at all times.”
Dunbar finished with five tackles against Chicago, including one tackle for a loss.
Meanwhile, cornerback Tracy Porter (right calf) practiced and was limited for the first time in nearly a week and a half and is listed as questionable.
Speaking for the first time since aggravating his calf, Porter said he’d like to play but ultimately it’s up to the coaches.
“I really can’t tell you a lot,” Porter said. “I just can go out there, take it day by day. It felt good today. And we only hope that it can continue to improve.”
As for the rest of the Saints injury report, safety Jonathan Amaya (left shoulder) was limited but is probable while linebacker Jonathan Casillas (right foot), safety Roman Harper (right ankle) and defensive tackle Tom Johnson (left calf) were full and are probable.
For Houston, running back Arian Foster (hamstring) and receiver Jacoby Jones (knee) were limited and are questionable while cornerback Sherrick McManis (hamstring) and running back Derrick Ward (shoulder/ankle) did not practice and are out. Everyone else on their injury report is probable.