NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Short-handed and disappointed, but hardly crippled, the New Orleans Saints may at last be able to put bounty scandals behind them and focus on putting together a fourth-straight playoff season.
As it turned out, only two current Saints - linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith - will be sanctioned. And while Vilma, a defensive captain, is slated to miss the entire season, Smith's four-game suspension still allows him to participate in training camp, as well as the final 12 regular-season games - and whatever playoff run the scandal-plagued but highly motivated Saints might make.
Smith said in a statement Wednesday, hours after his suspension was announced, that he planned to appeal. Vilma at first said only that he would fight what he perceived as an injustice perpetrated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and then said on his Twitter page Thursday he "definitely" would appeal.
The 6-foot, 241-pound Lofton was a second-round draft choice by the Falcons in 2008 and has started 63 of his 64 games, including all 16 last season.
The 6-foot, 236-pound Hawthorne, entering his fifth year in the NFL, has started 41 games in his last three seasons at Seattle.
With new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo bringing in his own system, Vilma would not have had much advantage over Lofton or Hawthorne in terms of experience in the system.
He missed five games in 2011 because of nagging knee problems. He finished with 54 total tackles, one quarterback hit and only one tackle for a loss with no sacks. Those numbers were way down from the Saints' Super Bowl run two seasons earlier, when Vilma led the team with 110 total tackles, had two sacks among 10 tackles for losses, had 10 QB hits and three interceptions.
If Vilma's appeal or potential legal maneuvers succeed, he may have a chance to prove he can come back and play the way he did before 2011. Otherwise, he might have to wait until the 2013 season.
At defensive end, the Saints have three players other than Smith with NFL experience: 2011 first-round pick Cam Jordan, veteran Turk McBride and third-year pro Junior Gallette. Last season, Smith was second on the club with 6 1/2 sacks, but Gallette had 4 1/2 sacks in a reserve role, showing the potential to be more productive with more playing time. Jordan started all but one game in his rookie season and will be expected to produce even more in 2012.
The Saints still have their secondary intact with the exception of cornerback Tracy Porter, who left in free agency. However, former first-round draft choice Patrick Robinson, who led New Orleans with four interceptions last season, was expected to slide into the starting spot opposite veteran Jabari Greer.
Harper is keeping quiet for now, while the team's training headquarters is closed to media. He has not returned a phone message left after the NFL announced player punishments.
The Saints as an organization also have not commented since the player suspensions were announced. There's been no word from general manager Mickey Loomis or assistant head coach Joe Vitt - who's handling most head coaching duties during Sean Payton's season-long suspension - concerning how the club will respond to Vilma and Smith suspensions.
Of the players who have spoken up, most have done so on social media web sites.
"We will be fine!!!" Moore tweeted. "Who Dat all day!"