Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
METAIRIE, La. - As the Saints began their prepractice stretch on Wednesday, receiver Lance Moore hopped up, looked over at linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and hollered, "Glad you're back! We missed you!" while the entire team offered a round of applause.
"Hello!" Vilma responded with a smile, still seated on the field, one leg pulled over another.
Vilma then did something he had yet to do in 2012: practice.
And it was obvious the Saints were pulling for him to be ready to play Sunday in Tampa Bay, which might be his only chance to get back on the field this season if his bounty suspension, currently on appeal, winds up going back into effect in a week or so.
"Vilma continues to fight for what's right and a fair process, which I think is extremely justified," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "The fact that he was out there practicing today, it just kind of puts a smile on everybody's face knowing what he's been through and having the opportunity to get him back."
Vilma did not work with the first team, but also did not wear any kind of brace or sleeve on his surgically repaired left knee, which has been another obstacle to his return.
Vilma had several offseason procedures done on his knee, which had slowed him last season and sidelined him five games. He even traveled to Germany to see a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Vilma's initial season-long suspension was handed down in May and went into effect in July after his initial appeal was rejected.
That suspension lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeal panel that instructed Commissioner Roger Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending Vilma and three others -- Saints defensive end Will Smith, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita -- in connection with New Orleans' cash-for-hits bounty pool.
Because of his rehabilitation, Vilma was placed on the Saints' physically unable to perform list when his initial suspension was lifted, a move that saved the Saints a roster spot and also prevented Vilma from practicing or playing during the first six weeks of the regular season.
The suspensions were reissued last week and promptly appealed by all four players, with appeal hearings set for next Tuesday at NFL headquarters in New York. Vilma remains suspended for the season and Smith for four games. Hargrove's was reduced from eight to seven games and Fujita from three to one.
Vilma did not make himself available for comment while the locker room at Saints headquarters was opened to reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
RAIDERS: Linebacker Aaron Curry returned to practice for the first time since May after dealing with nagging knee problems in recent months.
Curry began the season on the physically unable to perform list and was unable to practice for the first six weeks.
GIANTS: Running back Ahmad Bradshaw did not practice because of foot issues.
BENGALS: Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is close to making his injury-delayed NFL debut, possibly Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bengals took Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick, but an injury to his left knee wiped out all of his training camp. He returned to practice on a limited basis earlier this month and has been getting better each time out.
JETS: Fullback John Conner was waived with an injury settlement. He has been dealing with knee and hamstring injuries all season.
RAVENS: Ray Lewis was placed on injured reserve with the "designated to return" tag, which provides him the chance to play again this season.
Lewis tore his right triceps in Sunday's game against Dallas. He was scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday.
His return his season is unlikely.