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John DeShazier: Jonathan Vilma appears comfortable with new coordinator, new defense

New Orleans Saints are making the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under Rob Ryan

You didn't figure it would take Jonathan Vilma long, did you?

To learn the nuances involved in playing a new position in the New Orleans Saints' defense (inside linebacker, rather than middle linebacker). Or to learn the terminology involved in installing a new defense (the 3-4 of new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, rather than the 4-3 that was preferred by former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo). Or to know the nuances and terminology well enough to serve as a play-caller for Ryan.

No, you had to know that he'd know.

Given the head start of being free of injury and operating without the restriction of a league suspension, Vilma, the quick study who for years has pitted his defensive brilliance against the offensive genius of quarterback Drew Brees in practice and emerged victorious on a respectful number of occasions, appears to be fairly comfortable with the Saints' new coordinator and defense.

His teammates seem to be catching on, too, the evidence being a rash of turnovers produced within a five-minute flurry during Friday's work during the opening day of training camp. Included in the three-turnover spurt were interceptions by cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Jabari Greer, the first in well-played, man-to-man coverage and the second, off a pass that glanced off the hands of tight end Michael Higgins.

"It's exciting that we're picking it up," Vilma said. "It's also a sign of Rob Ryan's defense – a little more aggressive. He wants to get after it. For us to execute doesn't mean that we're always going to be right, but as long as we're fast and we're aggressive.

"It's good to get those turnovers. It's better when we have execution. We're getting those turnovers off of executing the defense, which is really good, as opposed to tipped balls and things like that. I think guys are really understanding the defense and what Rob Ryan wants, and we're executing and we're making plays off it."

It's welcome activity for Vilma, being on the field.


A year ago today his uniform was a tailor-made suit, his teammates were a battery of lawyers and his playing field was a courtroom. Seeking to overturn a league-imposed suspension, Vilma, banned from the Saints' practice facility, was conversing with fans via Twitter and conducting interviews in front of the courthouse rather than in front of a Saints banner at the practice facility, as was the case Friday.

So it's understandable if he's feeling a little more at home – and optimistic – these days.

"It's a new season. We're excited about coming in, fresh start. Everyone is 0-0. Everyone has high aspirations. We're coming out and making sure we can do everything we can do, with everyone here this time. We have the head coach (Sean Payton) back (from suspension), I'm back. We don't have to worry about anything except football.

"Last year, there was a lot of uncertainty – if I was going to keep playing, if I wasn't going to keep playing, what position was I going to play when I got back. Now, we have our roles, we have our defined roles."

And two of the roles he has played since becoming a Saint in 2008 have been defensive leader, and quick study.

Roles that he still appears ready and able to handle.

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