Saints coach Sean Payton said Thursday he has no regrets about bringing linebacker Jonathan Vilma back from short-term injured reserve for one game before returning him to injured reserve Wednesday — ending his season.
Vilma, who had arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-August, missed the first seven games before being activated on Saturday for the game with the New York Jets. But after getting just 12 snaps against the Jets, Vilma’s comeback ended Wednesday when he went back on IR.
“The feeling — on both our parts — was that what he’s used to and accustomed to playing, at a certain speed and a certain level and certainly what we’ve seen, still wasn’t there,” Payton said. “But he’s progressing.”
Vilma, a former defensive captain and one of the most respected players on the team, was not available in the locker room Thursday during the time it was open to reporters.
Payton noted that Vilma, a 10-year veteran who has been plagued by knee issues in recent years, hasn’t made any long-term decisions about his future.
“We just had real good dialogue, and obviously difficult dialogue, with a guy that we have won a (Super Bowl) with and has been a great leader in this locker room,” Payton said.
“But make no mistake about it — this was something I’m sure was difficult for him to hear,” he added. “There are some players that you almost have to pull off the field.”
At the same time, it was easy to tell how tough a decision it was for Payton.
“He has been one of the all-time (favorites) as a coach now as far as a standup guy, a guy that prepares and a guy that takes everything he has done in the film room and brings it to the field,” he said. “I’ve said this before: he has been to our defense what Drew (Brees) has been to our offense. You’re always going to go the extra mile with a player like that.”
ADMIRING DEZ: It should come as no surprise to learn that Saints rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, an aggressive and feisty player, is a fan of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.
“I’m a Dez Bryant fan, I like the way he plays,” said Vaccaro, who may meet Bryant up close Sunday night when the Cowboys and Saints play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. “He plays aggressive and he has a nasty style. … I love it.
“He goes and gets the ball. You can just tell that he’s a competitor. I think he’s passionate, you can see it out there. He’s a guy that wants to put the game in his hands and that’s just part of being a competitor.”
PRACTICE REPORT: Saints guard Jahri Evans and tight end Jimmy Graham, who were held out of Wednesday’s practice, worked on a limited basis Thursday. Evans has been bothered by a hip injury and Graham has foot and elbow problems.
FS Malcolm Jenkins (knee), DE Cameron Jordan (ankle) and LB David Hawthorne (toe) remained out of practice. WR Marques Colston (knee) was limited again, while S Kenny Vaccaro (chest) participated fully after being limited Wednesday.
SS Roman Harper (knee), RB Darren Sproles (concussion), LB Curtis Lofton (hamstring), DE Tyrunn Walker (knee), DE Tom Johnson (hip) and TE Josh Hill (foot) also were full.
For the Cowboys, former LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne (hamstring) was among five players who didn’t practice Thursday. He missed last week’s game and will be questionable — at best — for Sunday.
PASSING PAYTON, ROMO: With fellow Eastern Illinois alum Tony Romo coming to town Sunday, Payton was asked Wednesday about the current EIU quarterback that has broken nearly every one of the records he and Romo set in their heyday.
Payton and Romo have joked over the years about who was the better quarterback, but now they’ve got company in senior Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo broke Payton’s career records for passing yards (11,650) and completions (923) and topped Romo’s career mark for touchdown passes (104) earlier this season.
“They’ve got a really good quarterback who is a senior coming out that shattered every one of the records we had left,” Payton said. “We (now) rank two and three, and that’s arguable as far as who’s two and who’s three.”
A TIP OF THE CAP: The Saints will take part in the NFL’s “Salute to Service” initiative during Sunday night’s game.
New Era created a special camouflage cap that players, coaches and staffers will wear to honor our military. Caps are available at www.neweracap.com with a portion of the proceeds going to the troops.
JACKSON, MORA TO APPEAR: Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson and former Saints coach Jim Mora will appear at the Saints Hall of Fame Museum before Sunday’s game. Jackson will appear from 5:30 p.m.-6:45 p.m., while Mora will be on hand from 6-6:50 p.m. to meet and greet fans.
The Saints Hall of Fame Museum is located at Gate B on the Plaza Level. The museum is open for three hours prior to each home game and for 45 minutes following each game and is free to ticket holders.