Bradley Handwerger / Sports Reporter
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METAIRIE, La. The Saints will have to make a decision on linebacker Jonathan Vilma's status as it pertains to the roster by the Monday following the team's Nov. 10 game against Dallas, coach Sean Payton said.

Vilma has practiced for a week and Payton said he's responding well thus far.

'It's just a matter of getting back into football-playing shape,' Payton said. 'He's someone who is a quick study so he knows what we're doing.'

Since the 2011 season, Vilma has undergone several procedures. He missed much of this preseason after undergoing another one and landed on the IR/Designated To Return list.

The decision to put him there, Payton said, was one that took time to figure out.

'The uncertainty was the procedure and yet we felt pretty good after the spring,' Payton said. 'I think we spent some time on it but I think we really felt like it was important for our team to see this through.'

Payton said Vilma has been working hard to return and to strengthen the leg.

'That's a credit to him. I'm glad we were able to do that,' the coach said. 'I think that's a good rule change, something the teams can benefit from.'

It has helped that Vilma's presence, while remaining in the linebackers meeting room, hasn't been completely missed on the field. Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne have handled the job well when the team has utilized two inside linebackers.

Lofton leads the team with 59 total tackles and has two passes defensed, one forced fumble and one sack. Hawthorne, meanwhile, is second on the team with 52 tackles, two sacks, one pass defensed and one forced fumble.

This has allowed the Saints to take the long view in regard to Vilma, though Payton said the staff doesn't look at postseason possibilities when deciding on how to proceed with an injured player.

'I don't ever think about I know we're going to be playing (in January),' Payton said. 'We don't look at it that way. Is the player healthy? Last week was a great example. Jimmy Graham. If we feel like he is and we're not putting the player at risk and he has gotten enough reps to where he can execute, he'll play. He's not going to hurt the team by being in there.

'At the same time, we're going to be very judicious or cautious if we feel like the player can further hurt himself and not be able to perform. We take that approach where each game would be the game we have to win to get into a playoff situation.'

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