The initial loss of Jonathan Vilma to a season-long suspension for his role in the New Orleans Saints bounty program always was framed more in terms of the linebacker's leadership and less around his play between the lines.
The Saints signed Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne to strengthen their linebacker corps during the offseason, but as quarterback Drew Brees said after Sunday's thrilling 35-28 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Vilma's importance to the team can't always be viewed through stats.
"Just his presence alone ... you could feel how grateful he was," Brees said, via the Times-Picayune. "He's just one of those guys, very vocal, he obviously knows guys very well, they know him, so his ability to say certain things at the right time, just provide a lift, whether it be his productivity on the field or making a play or something he would say, that presence was definitely felt this week."
The nine-year veteran is being allowed to play while he appeals his suspension. He has a hearing on his appeal scheduled for Oct. 30.
Vilma, who didn't start or record a tackle Sunday but did have a pass deflection, told the newspaper after the game that he's just getting his legs under him after rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee.
"I can only do as much as I can," Vilma said. "Obviously I didn't have training camp or OTAs, but (I'm) still going to practice and prepare the same way, and it's going to come back, eventually it will come back, you never get it all in one shot. Each week, all I can do is focus on trying to get better, focus on the little things, and we'll go from there."