Saints' Butler, Vilma eager to come back

METAIRIE, La. – Even in this new era of remarkable recoveries from torn knee ligaments, it still took players like Adrian Peterson and Robert Griffin III nine months before they returned to game action. So New Orleans Saints linebacker Victor Butler knows the odds are stacked against him returning to the field by the end of the season, in what would be just six months after he tore his ACL in June.

Still, Butler insisted Friday that he’s going to give it his best shot. Butler said he has been running, cutting and working to get himself back in football shape for a few weeks now – “everything but hitting.” And the NFL’s new rules regarding the physically unable to perform list could work in his favor. Beginning this year, players on the PUP list can now wait until Week 12 to begin practicing. Then teams have a three-week window to decide whether to activate players, release them or place them on season-ending injured reserve.

In the meantime, the exuberant fifth-year pro has been enjoying the camaraderie with his teammates and the success of the Saints’ defense as much as possible. Butler, who signed as a free agent from Dallas this offseason, has been a regular presence in the locker room and said he’s proud to be a part of the team even though he can’t be on the field.

Fellow linebacker Jonathan Vilma, meanwhile, is much closer to returning to the Saints’ roster after having a less-serious clean-up surgery on his knee during the preseason. Vilma practiced every day this week after beginning the season on the short-term injured reserve list. And he is eligible to return to the 53-man roster as soon as next week.

The Saints don’t have to rush things with Vilma since his replacement, David Hawthorne, has played well in his absence. But Vilma said he feels like he’ll be ready whenever the Saints are ready to activate him.

“I’m feeling good, holding up well. I’ll tell Sean [Payton], ‘Hey, I had a good week, I’m ready to go.’ And we’ll go from there,” said Vilma, who said he would have been healthy enough to return even sooner if the Saints hadn’t used the short-term I.R. designation, which required him to sit for six weeks.

“But it was great that I didn’t have to rush or push the rehab process along,” Vilma said. “So it’s really been getting a good rest and strengthening.”