METAIRE — Jonathan Vilma will be back in a New Orleans Saints’ uniform on Wednesday.
But whether the Saints middle linebacker actually is on the field for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay — and beyond — is yet to be determined.
Vilma is coming off the physically-unable-to-perform list, where he’s been since last month when his season-long suspension in the bounty scandal was vacated and is now cleared to practice.
“I’m feeling great; feeling good,” Vilma, who has undergone three procedures on his left knee since last November, said in an interview with WVUE-TV Sunday. “I’ve been working out, training hard, working hard so I can get tot his point to be able to give our team a chance to win in Tampa Bay.”
Vilma’s return could be short-lived though.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to make the final ruling on the appeal by Vilma plus Saints defensive end Will Smith and former teammates Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, all of whom received lesser suspensions, on Oct. 23.
Perhaps anticipating an unfavorable verdict, Vilma’s attorney filed papers in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Monday asking for the entire suspension to be overturned. The NFL Players Association is making a similar request on behalf of the other players.
And on top of all of that is Vilma’s fitness for duty.
While he said he’s good to go, Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo sounded more skeptical Monday as the team retuned from its bye week.
Per NFL rules, Vilma will not resume practicing until Wednesday. The players have Tuesday off.
“Jonathan Vilma loves football,” Kromer said. “If he can come anywhere close to being near-able to play, he’s going to say he’s playing.
“But he hasn’t practiced. We’ll see what he can do.”
Spagnuolo added, “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. It’s not figured out today, but it will be.”
The Saints have until Saturday to decide whether or not to activate Vilma, which would necessitate a roster move.
Certainly Vilma’s teammates will welcome him back at virtually any level of contribution.
“Guys are really excited,” outside linebacker Scott Shanle said. “You have to find out exactly where he is healthwise and preparationwise.
“Obviously, he’ll get a better understanding about where he is with all of these things once he gets back. But just the possibility that it exists that he can come back is a real boost to the morale of the team.”
Strong safety Roman Harper said Vilma will have an impact, even if he is limited to the sidelines, as he was while on the PUP.
“He can be there giving us tips, keys, anything he can pick up on,” he said. “Coaching guys.
“J.V. (Vilma) is kind of on the outside, looking at the things they’re doing. He’s a smart guy, so anything he tells you, you try to take it in.”
If Vilma is activated, part of Spagnuolo’s dilemma will be figuring out how to use Curtis Lofton, a free-agent signee brought in primarily in anticipation of Vilma being gone all season. Lofton has been one of the better players on a team that is ranked last in total defense and 30th in scoring defense.
“I talked to Curtis this morning,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s everything we thought he would be when he got here.
“It’s like (General Manager) Mickey (Loomis) said way, way back, ‘Get as many good football players as you can,’ and figure out how to use them. Let’s get them all out there and practice, with the focus being what’s best for our team to beat Tampa Bay.”
In addition to Vilma, the Saints anticipate getting back cornerback Jabari Greer, who missed most of last week’s victory against San Diego with a groin injury.
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas and David Hawthorne also missed the Chargers game. Neither Spagnuolo or Kromer commented on their status Monday.
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