Guys like Vilma keep Saints ahead of game during lockout

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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If there was any question which team was best taking advantage of this nasty lockout, there shouldn't be any longer. It continues to be New Orleans. Land. Slide. Listen to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and you'll know why.

"Players around the league look at the lockout differently," Vilma told me. "Some see the lockout as a time to relax. Some see it as a time to heal from serious injury. Some see it as a time to party. We're definitely not in that last category.

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"I feel pretty comfortable saying that almost every player on the Saints is in terrific shape. We could take the practice field tomorrow in full pads and be fine. This group of guys is in better shape than we were at this time when the Saints won the Super Bowl."

How is that possible, he's asked? No OTAs, no minicamps, and in better shape?

"Because we know this is a time when a player can slip through the cracks," he said. "You can get soft. You can say, 'I'm taking this week off. I'm partying tonight.' And pretty soon you're out of shape. No one on this team is doing that because of guys like Drew [Brees] and the leaders we have on this team. Everyone is working twice as hard because they don't want to relax a minute and get soft."

Leaders like Vilma, too. If Brees has been the fulcrum for the Saints' lockout offense, Pro Bowl linebacker Vilma has been the defensive centrifuge. In the past, before the lockout, it wasn't unusual for the two men to put a $100 bet on which unit performed better in practice. The lockout workouts have been just as competitive.

Staying in shape during the lockout won't win a Super Bowl, but this can't be stressed enough, and it's why lockout workouts remain one of the most important stories in the league right now: The teams that stay the most unified and don't gain the beer bellies and fat asses will have a major lead on teams whose waists expand and endurance shrinks.

It's that simple. Get fat, lose later. A sprint a day keeps the pulled hamstrings away.

No, Super Bowls cannot be won now. But they can be lost. Vilma is one of the key Saints making sure his team doesn't lose a title before the season starts.

"We're more committed than other teams," said Vilma, who is taking part in a promotion that allows fans to work out with Saints players, the proceeds going to charity.

"Anyone who watches what we do can see that. There's a lot of trust in each other and the system. I've been in the defensive system for three years. Drew has been in the offensive system for five years."

The irony of Vilma becoming one of the Saints' most important players of the lockout isn't lost on him. When uber-idiot Eric Mangini, then coach of the Jets, traded Vilma, he went to the Saints wanting to prove to the rest of the league he could be a major factor. Vilma became a huge component of the Saints and won a ring. Mangini is still an uber-idiot.

As for the lockout, Vilma is one of the few players who don't seem angry over it, or even mildly agitated. "It's true that players want to get back to doing what they best, which is play football," Vilma explained. "But I'm not stir crazy. You can only control what you can control."

What the Saints are controlling is their lockout destiny.

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