METAIRIE, La. — Jonathan Vilma’s status with the Saints as an on-field contributor looked dire in July when, in court filings related to his lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the public found out just how badly his knee was hurt during the 2011 season.
It was injured badly enough that he went to Europe for a new rehabilitation approach, one that included a new blood-spinning process known as platelet rich plasma therapy.
And yet, five games after coming off the physically unable to perform list, Vilma is contributing as much as anyone.
So much so, in fact, that the coaching staff believes he’s part of the reason for the Saints’ turnaround.
“I think you hit the nail on the head. Let’s face it – any defense is better with Jonathan Vilma in there,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said.
Vilma has played in 183 of 372 defensive snaps, or 49 percent of the plays the defense has seen since the beginning of the Oct. 21 game at Tampa Bay. In those plays, Vilma has contributed 13 tackles, of which three were for a loss, and one sack. He also has two quarterback hits and one pass defensed.
He has been the most active, though, when he’s on the field alongside Curtis Lofton, the free agent middle linebacker New Orleans signed this offseason. Vilma has played in a two-linebacker set with Lofton as well in the base 4-3, where he lines up at weakside linebacker.
From Spagnuolo’s perspective, the combination of Lofton and Vilma has been a rousing success.
“They have really functioned well together,” Spagnuolo said. “I could see it on the film this morning. They are interacting as they are coming out and they are helping each other with the calls. There are some checks that need to be made by the Mike linebacker.
“Curtis does a great job on his own but to have another guy to lean on and somebody that might see one side of the football while he is looking at the other has been good.”