|The Saints hope TE Jimmy Graham will be available to fly again soon. They got a good sign Thursday when Graham took part in practice on a limited basis. (US Presswire)|
Graham, who set the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end last season only to have New England's Rob Gronkowski break it a few minutes later, sprained his right ankle in the first half against San Diego on Oct. 7.
“Jimmy is mentally ready, and he is a very tough guy,” Kromer said. “Pain doesn't affect him. You saw him playing after he hurt his ankle. Those kinds of things won't affect Jimmy Graham. He will know the game plan. He was limited today, so he was able to get some of it.”
Graham walked through the locker room with a slight limp after practice but did not talk to reporters because he had to attend a team meeting. His absence would leave a significant hole in the Saints' offense. His backup, David Thomas, has only two catches while coming back from concussions that sidelined him for most of 2011. The other tight end on the roster, Daniel Graham, is a blocking specialist who hasn't had a pass thrown to him.
“Jimmy Graham is a mismatch positionally,” Kromer said. “When you don't have him, you have to find your best bet and your best other options, and that's what our challenge will be if Jimmy is not ready.”
Daniel Graham (6-feet-3, 257 pounds), an 11-year veteran with 224 career catches, was unsigned when the Saints added him in mid-August. He was a blocking specialist with Tennessee last year, making only two receptions despite starting seven games.
“I'll do whatever they ask me to do,” he said. “I'm capable of still being a receiver. I knew I was coming in here mainly to be a blocker, and I have no problem doing that. My blocking has been a strong point my whole career, and I feel like that's always been a downfall in the passing game for me.”
Vilma update: LB Jonathan Vilma practiced again Thursday, but the Saints still haven't put him on the active roster. They have until Sunday to decide whether he will play against Tampa Bay.
“We have to wait until Sunday because there are still a lot of things that we're going through in the game plan and we don't have it all in yet,” Kromer said. “As the week goes on we still continue to see how he feels after each practice. Are there any kind of setbacks? Is there soreness or anything like that that could hold him up as well? It's physically, and it's mentally.”
The smart money is on Vilma not playing, but the temptation to activate him comes because this may be the only week he is eligible to play. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will rule on Vilma's latest appeal of his season-long bounty-related suspension next Tuesday.
“It's been a long time since he has been on the football field with the team and seeing plays and pass routes run at him,” Kromer said. “It has just been a while. We just have to feel how comfortable he is and how comfortable we are with him.”
Injury update: Only two players missed practice Thursday -- LBs David Hawthorne (hamstring) and Scott Shanle (illness). Kromer said G Jahri Evans, who was limited by a toe injury on Wednesday, participated fully along with DE Turk McBride, LB Jonathan Casillas, WR Lance Moore and RB Travaris Cadet and CB Jabari Greer, all of whom entered the bye week with injuries.
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on twitter @CBSSaints.