- Mike Triplett, ESPN Staff Writer
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METAIRIE, La. -- Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is now eligible to return to the New Orleans Saints' active roster. But coach Sean Payton did not indicate Thursday if and when the Saints plan to activate him.
The Saints have until Nov. 11 to decide whether to activate Vilma or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
“He’s doing well. He’s getting reps. It’s just a matter of getting back into football-playing shape,” Payton said. “He’s someone who is a quick study, so he knows what we’re doing.”
The Saints have the luxury of bringing Vilma along slowly since veteran David Hawthorne has played so well in his absence. Hawthorne made two more big plays with a forced fumble and a sack last week against the Buffalo Bills.
Although the Saints haven’t discussed their plans for using the two linebackers going forward, it stands to reason that Hawthorne will remain the starter, with Vilma being used in a rotational role.
The Saints themselves probably don’t know exactly what to expect from Vilma when he returns to action. He has been hampered by a knee injury on and off for three seasons now, including the arthroscopic clean-up surgery in the preseason that landed him on short-term injured reserve.
Payton said it was good to have the new short-term I.R. rule (enacted last season) as an option.
“The uncertainty was the procedure, and yet we felt pretty good after the spring,” Payton said. “I think we spent some time on (Vilma’s roster status). But I think we really felt like it was important for our team to see this through.
“The good news is he’s going to work extremely hard at anything he does. I know he worked very hard at the rehab element of coming back and strengthening his leg. That’s a credit to him. I’m glad we were able to do that. I think that’s a good rule change, something teams can benefit from.”