It’s tempting to overreact about New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s knee. But don’t do it, at least not yet.
Saints followers have been dealt bad news before and throughout the duration of this training camp, which officially wrapped up Thursday.
There was strongside outside linebacker Victor Butler, who tore an ACL in June during organized team activities. There was Joe Morgan, a No. 3 wide receiver candidate who required repairs to a torn meniscus and a partially-torn ACL after the Black and Gold scrimmage Aug. 3. And there was Kenyon Coleman, a projected starter at left defensive end who tore a pectoral muscle at practice on Aug. 6.
All three are expected to miss the season, forcing the Saints to comb their roster for replacements. That is not the case with Vilma, however.
Vilma was undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in Philadelphia, coach Sean Payton said Thursday. Reportedly, the procedure would relieve swelling and discomfort Vilma was experiencing in his knee.
Certainly, both Vilma and the Saints are unhappy about the situation. Vilma missed a total of five games in 2011 with knee problems and spent the first six weeks of 2012 on the physically unable to perform list as he recovered from offseason knee surgery.
On top of that, in 2007, with the New York Jets, he suffered a season-ending knee injury seven games into the year and was subsequently traded to the Saints.
Furthermore, reports stating that Vilma could return for the Sept. 8 regular season opener against the Atlanta Falcons sound quite optimistic, given that arthroscopic surgeries can take longer than three weeks to heal.
But the procedure Payton said Vilma was getting is a minor one. It is not one performed on people who are coping with what his teammates Butler, Morgan and Coleman are.
Vilma at some point will need to provide answers to questions about whether he can man the weakside inside linebacker position full-time. But that time is not now, when much of the focus is on evaluating players on the fringe of the 53-man roster.
With Vilma sidelined, Payton and his staff are sure to take a hard look at David Hawthorne, brought to the Saints in 2012 after four seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. Hawthorne didn’t have a chance to show much to the Saints last year — he missed five games with a hamstring injury and got just 20 solo tackles with no turnovers.
Of course, Payton wasn’t around for any of those tackles because of his bounty scandal-related suspension. And neither was defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who wasn’t hired to replace Steve Spagnuolo until February.
Other linebackers aside from Hawthorne are Ramon Humber, Will Herring and Chris Chamberlain.
Vilma’s absence presents a valuable opportunity for Payton and Ryan to intensify their evaluation of Hawthorne, which couldn’t really begin in earnest until training camp opened in July.
“I think my opportunity is out there definitely,” Hawthorne said Thursday. “My whole focus is to give myself the best opportunity, by my play, by my practice, by my camp.”
Watching Hawthorne more closely while awaiting a clearer picture of Vilma’s health would also be worthwhile for Saints supporters.
While that picture is incomplete and could be better, it is not yet something to panic about.