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QBREES9 08-05-2010 10:53 PM

New Orleans Saints Jonathan Vilma is a master at making the calls on defense
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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is well known for the theatrical display of pre-snap checks and adjustments that he makes at the line of scrimmage.

But no one paid much attention to the player across from him in Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7 in Miami, who had to quickly assess the dance he was watching and react with a series of his own last-second adjustments.

"What people don't realize in that ballgame, on more than half our snaps, (middle linebacker) Jon Vilma checked out of our defense -- and that's special," said New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who described his postgame hug with Vilma after New Orleans prevailed 31-17 as "a moment in time that I'll never forget."

"It was his ability to out-check the defense over the check-master, Peyton Manning," Williams said. "Jon Vilma, make no bones about it, he's our Drew Brees. Jon Vilma runs our defense. Not only is he a very physical player, but he's a very cerebral player. Jonathan Vilma is smart, fast, tough, and he also can play as long as you want to play. That's what makes him special, and he's here every day to compete."

Vilma, 28, has made a tremendous impact on the Saints' defense since arriving in a 2008 trade. The active, athletic 6-foot-1, 230-pounder has been as significant as any addition since Brees, considering the importance of his position and the struggles New Orleans had in finding a reliable middle linebacker for more than a decade after Sam Mills' departure.
His terrific two-year run culminated this past winter with his second career Pro Bowl selection and that outstanding Super Bowl performance.
When asked the other day about that exhausting Super Bowl chess match against the "check-master," Vilma let out a long sigh, then a laugh.
"I'll tell you what, thank God we had two weeks to get ready for them," said Vilma, who estimated that he checked out of about 60 percent of the Saints' defensive calls against the Colts -- way more than an average game.
"That was a lot of hours of film, a lot of hours of film," added Vilma, explaining that once the game started, it was just a matter of getting a feel for Indianapolis' tendencies and finding a rhythm -- "just like a quarterback, once they get in a rhythm. And you know what, to be honest with you, I wasn't right every time -- but fortunately the 10 guys around me played hard and made up for it."
Vilma also credited one of his teammates from the other side of the ball -- Brees.

Since Vilma's first year in New Orleans, he and Brees have developed a friendly but intense rivalry. They keep a running tally of which side wins each team drill. Often, money exchanges hands -- but it's the pride that matters most.

"We try not to make it personal," Vilma said, laughing again. "But sometimes it carries over and carries off the field; but you've got to love it. You've got to love a competitive quarterback and a competitive linebacker going at it."
Brees said Vilma deserves some of the credit for his own career resurgence in New Orleans.

Those daily battles in practice -- which have been noticeably more intense since Williams arrived to run the show last season -- have coincided with Brees' ascent to the top rung of the NFL's quarterback ladder, alongside Manning and the New England Patriots' Tom Brady.
"Vilma is such a smart football player and also a tough, physical football player," Brees said. "I feel like if I can outsmart him, then I've done something because the guy doesn't miss much.

"He's constantly making adjustments, constantly making checks, getting guys in the right positions. He knows that defense very, very well, even only having been in it for one year now. So that constant match of wits and that chess match is something that makes me look forward to practice every day because I'm going up against one of the league's best. It's fun, and it's helping me become a better player."

If there's a knock on Vilma, it's that he's a bit on the small side, which sometimes gets him tangled up in traffic when a blocker gets position on him. Vilma usually does a great job of weaving his way through traffic, and he shows power for his size when he hits running backs and tight ends.
Despite a knee injury that briefly derailed his career with the New York Jets and has flared up from time to time since, Vilma has proven durable with the Saints. He has started every game the past two seasons, except for Week 17 last season, when New Orleans rested many of their starters.
The Saints have credited Vilma with 281 tackles the past two seasons (151 in 2008, 130 last in 2009), plus 14 in the playoffs last season.

He also has five interceptions, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and three sacks, including the playoffs. In the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Superdome, he intercepted a pass from quarterback Brett Favre, forced a fumble by tailback Adrian Peterson and recovered a fumble by receiver Bernard Berrian in the Saints' 31-28 victory in overtime.

Like most of New Orleans' defensive players, Vilma has thrived under the direction of Williams, who preaches the importance of playing to the strengths of each individual on the field.

"We have a real, real, real good relationship," Vilma said. "The thing I'm so fortunate to be a part of is having a defensive coordinator who lets me understand him and lets me go out there and play. He always gives me the freedom to check out of a play if I see something, and never questions me if I check out of a play and it may not be the right thing to do.
"He understands my capabilities, and I'm trying to be that extension of him on the field."

The feeling is mutual.
"You know, to date, I've not had a middle linebacker be a better quarterback of our defense than London Fletcher ... London is phenomenal," Williams said, speaking of the longtime NFL standout whom he coached in Buffalo and Washington. "Jonathan Vilma is breathing down London's neck."

SmashMouth 08-06-2010 11:16 AM

Re: New Orleans Saints Jonathan Vilma is a master at making the calls on defense
We used to have London Fletcher too ..... Hazbeen cut him if I recall correctly. If anyone recollects, please post. I think he was signed by us, then cut, the Washington picked him up.

Rugby Saint II 08-09-2010 02:47 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints Jonathan Vilma is a master at making the calls on defense
This was a great read. Vilma is definitely the leader on the defense, although lot's of folks give Sharper the credit. They both compliment the other in my opinion.

QBREES9 08-09-2010 10:28 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints Jonathan Vilma is a master at making the calls on defense
Vilma is the man

strato 08-09-2010 10:57 PM

Re: New Orleans Saints Jonathan Vilma is a master at making the calls on defense
In Vilma i trust our D..on the field...

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