Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith are back.
It should be interesting to see what happens now.
Smith, a defensive end, should not have much of a problem. He was allowed to practice with the team, and should know the defense quite well. He is also a strong all-around end, having been used in both a 3-4 and 4-3. Smith will be a big asset for the Saints as the face rookie QB sensation Robert Griffin III.
Vilma is in a more difficult situation. The Saints had already signed Curtis Lofton to a deal that could last through 2017. Vilma being back means that they now have two starting middle linebackers in a 4-3 defense.
For this week, that shouldn't be a problem, since the lifting of the suspensions came so close to the season opener. Vilma was not allowed to practice with the team, so he does not know the gameplan against Robert Griffin III. Since the middle linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, that essentially makes him out this week.
However, Vilma missed training camp at a key time. Steve Spagnuolo was called in to replace Greg Williams, who had already left the team when the bounty scandal hit. Spagnuolo has been installing a new defense, and since Vilma missed all of training camp, he might not see the field until midway through the season (or later).
The long deal that Lofton received could be a sign that the Saints planned on switching to a 3-4 defense, which would give them room to start both Lofton and Vilma. However, a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 usually is accompanied by a defensive overhaul, since each scheme expects different attributes from its player. The Saints did focus on their front seven on defense, with a new starting defensive tackle and another new starting linebacker in addition to Lofton.
It is also very difficult to overhaul a team's scheme midseason. Last year's switch from Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow included a successful offensive switch, but it was to a simpler option offense, and the team struggled to put up points all year. If the Saints to jump to a 3-4 midseason, it won't be truly effective until the playoffs, and maybe not even then.
If the Saints can find a way to get Vilma on the field, their defense will be much better for it. Just don't count on them pulling it off.
The author is a Cowboys fan, but knows lots of Saints fans (friends and family). The Saints will be the team he knows the second best, after his Cowboys.
You can track him on Facebook (RGDSports@yahoo.com) and Twitter (@RGDSports), or by clicking the "become a fan" button next to his goofy looking picture that needs to be updated.