Saints mailbag: Expectations for Vilma

Thanks for submitting your questions to me on Twitter this week. I’ll put together a mailbag every weekend and occasionally sprinkle some questions into my morning report. So send ‘em my way anytime @MikeTriplett.

@Zoli8: Is Vilma coming back and is it really a good idea to put him back in the mix with how well the Saints D is playing w/o him?

@super2510: how’s Vilma doing? If he comes off ir what role will he have?

@MikeTriplett: Coach Sean Payton just talked about Jonathan Vilma on Friday and said he’s optimistic he might begin practicing after the Week 7 bye. Vilma will be eligible to return to the active roster after Week 8. I wouldn’t worry about the Saints throwing Vilma back into the starting lineup while he’s still rusty, though. David Hawthorne has played very well in Vilma’s absence, so it’s possible Vilma will never supplant him as the starter.

I’m sure Rob Ryan will figure out where Vilma could be of the most value in a rotational role, though, even if the snaps are limited. The Saints have the luxury of bringing Vilma along slowly. And if you do see him back in the starting lineup quickly, that would mean they like what they’re seeing from him.

@TattooedSaints1: I’m thinking NE will use a cover-by-(committee) approach with Graham, everyone will get a chance. Not just one guy. Agree?

@MikeTriplett: I fully expect every defense to play Jimmy Graham that way this season. I’m not sure there are many individual defensive players suited to play him one-on-one. For an excellent X's and O's take on how the Patriots should approach Graham, check out ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi’s breakdown of Sunday’s matchup with Patriots reporter Mike Reiss.

@SAINTLYnSnDiego: hows Martez Wilson progressing in RR's Def scheme? Haven't heard his name much this year.

@jbenton: Why have we seen less of Martez Wilson than people expected in preseason? Change in scheme, poor performance, something else?

@MikeTriplett: Wilson’s snaps have been very limited this year, but that’s partly a testament to how well Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan have been playing on the edges. The Saints haven’t wanted to rotate those guys out very often -- especially since they’re playing such a small number of snaps on defense overall this year. The Saints' defense has played about 100 snaps fewer than some other teams around the NFL while they lead the league in time of possession.

Veteran outside linebacker Parys Haralson is also playing a limited number of snaps, while the Saints aren’t lining up in their base 3-4 alignment very often. They spend most of their time in nickel and dime defenses with four-man fronts and just two true linebackers in the middle of the field. I’m not sure who the Saints would want to take off the field to get more snaps for those guys at this point. … I still think Wilson has great athleticism and potential. But he’s still a work in progress, especially since he’s moved around positions under three different coordinators in each of his three seasons.

@fameasap: do you think that khiry robinson getting more carries would help the run game?

@Donare15: where do you see our future is going with our running backs? I personally think khiry is going to be our future. Do you agree?

@MikeTriplett: Two different questions here. First of all, I don’t necessarily think more touches for rookie running back Khiry Robinson would change the state of the Saints’ run game much. Although Robinson has shown an ability to cut back and break some tackles in limited appearances, he’s also had his share of minus-runs. I think we’ve seen enough evidence this year to realize that the problems in the Saints’ run game aren’t just about the specific backs who are carrying the ball. I do think there were signs of improvement with the running game overall last week at Chicago, though -- a good sign for all of the Saints’ backs.

As for Robinson’s future, it’s still too soon to tell. But I think he’ll get an opportunity to play a bigger role with the team in future years. He’s already gotten past the hardest part, breaking onto a 53-man roster as an undrafted rookie. Now that he’s in the building, the Saints will go by what they see in practice and in games (see: former undrafted running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory). I still think the Saints will move Mark Ingram back ahead of Robinson in the pecking order when he returns from his toe injury, though. The Saints are still high on Ingram’s potential, and they’ll give him the opportunity to prove his worth once the run game shows improvement overall.

@madveal28: With the versatility of Sproles do the Saints need a dominant running game to be successful?

@MikeTriplett: I definitely don’t think the Saints need a “dominant” run game. I never have. And I agree that their short passing game with Darren Sproles and Thomas serves a very similar purpose in keeping defenses off balance. I also think the Saints’ most effective runs are their draw plays and tosses out of three- and four-receiver sets. But they do at least need to be effective enough in their power-running sets to convert on short-yardage downs and run out the clock when they have leads (two areas that haven’t actually been that bad this year). So I don’t think the run game is an area that will destroy the Saints’ chances of contending for a title this year at all.

@ToddDuenckel: I have a great discuss ques Where is (Pierre Thomas) beginning to stand in alltime Saints history? … And look what PThoma did in and on the way to the superbowl

@MikeTriplett: Great question -- and great point in mentioning Thomas’ Super Bowl touchdown. I think that play cemented his legacy as an all-time beloved player, rather than just a “Remember that guy?” Thomas is also slowly but surely moving up the Saints’ all-time rushing charts. He’s currently seventh with 3,111 career rushing yards. He should pass Ricky Williams (3,129) for sixth today at New England. By season’s end, he could pass No. 4 Rueben Mayes (3,408) and No. 5 Chuck Muncie (3,393) as well. It will take Thomas a little longer to crack the top three (No. 2 George Rogers, 4,267 and No. 3 Dalton Hilliard 4,164). And I don’t think he’ll ever catch No. 1 Deuce McAllister (6,096).

Thomas and Hilliard are the only two backs in Saints history with at least 3,000 rushing yards and 1,800 receiving yards (Thomas has 1,883). Thomas ranks seventh in franchise history with 4,994 yards from scrimmage. And he ranks eighth with 35 total touchdowns.