Can Jonathan Vilma return to form?

We’ve hit the home stretch of the offseason with precious little time remaining for players and coaches to get their non-football lives in order.  The first practice for the 2013 season is Friday, July 26. will take a look at 10 questions for New Orleans entering training camp and the season. They’re in no particular order, just numbered.
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8. Can Jonathan Vilma return to form?
Talent and effort have never been Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s issue. For every season that he has been healthy, he has finished with no fewer than 116 tackles.

But two things don’t play in his favor heading into the 2013 season.
A)    New Orleans’ switch to a 3-4 defense B)    He’s 31 and has had several big knee surgeries.

We’ll start with A. Vilma is a true 4-3 middle linebacker. He’s an on-field coach, one with the specific skills to single-handedly get the defense in order while tending to his own responsibilities. In the move to the 3-4, he’ll have to share responsibilities with Curtis Lofton and learn to attack the gaps in the offensive line differently.

That turns our attention to B. Vilma was never the most athletic player on the field. He always understood the defense and how to use his knowledge of it to get into position.

But coming off of two seasons in which he was never fully healthy due to a left knee injury that required extensive surgery in the ’12 offseason, one has to wonder if he has the physical tools still to succeed.

If he can’t physically elude blockers or keep up with players out on routes, whether he can transition to a 3-4 from a 4-3 won’t really matter.

Yet, he does have the size to succeed if his knee holds up. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, he’s basically the same size as the Dallas Cowboys inside linebackers in 2012 and we don’t need to tell you that Vilma’s new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was with the team in the Lone Star State last year.

And Vilma is a much more mature player now than he was when the New York Jets moved to a 3-4 and, according to the Newark Star-Ledger on Nov. 7, 2007, told friends he wasn’t happy with the 3-4 system Eric Mangini had in place.

There are varying degrees in returning to form, however, and Vilma should return somewhere in the middle. He will undoubtedly be better than he was in 2012 when he spent the first week on the commissioner’s permission list before the next four were on the physically unable to perform list.

The best example that shows there’s still some gas left in Vilma’s tank came in the final game of the 2012 regular season. He finished with a season-high 11 tackles and intercepted a pass while defending two others.

But it’s hard to envision him as the marauding middle linebacker of 2009 when he finished with 130 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions and eight passes defensed.

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