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Joe Vitt: Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita 'like my sons'

The New Orleans Saints are a tight-knit bunch here in May. Constant pounding from fans and the media will do that to an NFL team.

Interim head coach Joe Vitt on Wednesday talked about the relief of getting back to football. During organized team activities on Thursday, Vitt was invariably asked about the suspensions handed down to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and his former teammate, linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns. Vitt wasted no time clarifying his position on both players:

"I've said this before, Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma are like my sons," Vitt said. "I don't know that I've ever been closer to two players in my whole career, and I know their intent every time they take the football field. I know the way they play, the way they prepare and that's his right (to appeal)."

This is the tone of the 2102 Saints. Here's what else we learned from Thursday's OTA session:

• Vilma plans to appeal his season-long suspension. Until that appeal is ruled on, he's permitted to join teammates and coaches at the team facility. Vilma wasn't present for field drills Thursday, but The Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett suspected this was due to an injury, not the looming suspension.

• With Drew Brees AWOL due to his contract squabble with the Saints, backup quarterback Chase Daniel is enjoying a long look. He was hot/cold passing the ball Thursday, but took off for a potential 60-yard touchdown scamper. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said Daniel wants to be a starter in the NFL, but understands he's keeping Drew's seat warm here in May. "We obviously miss (Brees)," Vitt said. "He's going to be here. This is a great opportunity for Chase."

• The Saints defense will play under the microscope in 2012. Vitt is focused on reducing the number of big plays the unit gives up. Vitt told The Times-Picayune the Saints were torched for 99 big plays in 2011, a number the team plans to chop down to 75 in Steve Spagnuolo's zone defense.

• Roster note: Outside linebacker Martez Wilson is spending time at defensive end this week. He might be in line for a hybrid role in this year's defensive scheme. Something to keep an eye on.

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