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Saints' confidence in Lofton keeps growing

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
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By Dan Parr

While the Saints wait to hear whether suspended MLB Jonathan Vilma will be allowed to suit up for them this season, we hear the team could not be more pleased with Curtis Lofton.

Lofton has stepped in to fill the void created by Vilma’s absence at middle linebacker and has some added motivation to exceed expectations after the Falcons didn’t re-sign him this offseason. Lofton — who signed a five-year deal with New Orleans in March — is in great shape and has been playing like a house on fire, according to the description from one training-camp observer.

Although Lofton’s hardworking and understated approach has been well received in New Orleans, Vilma is still very much on the minds of the Saints.

Saints players and coaches have voiced their support for Vilma, still considered their defensive captain, as he battles the NFL in the courtroom over a season-long suspension for his alleged role in the team’s “bounty” program.

“(Vilma is) the heart and soul of our defense” Saints FS Malcolm Jenkins said earlier this week. “The sooner he can get back, the more of an impact he can make. I think obviously right now, he’s missing time as far as getting the install and the playbook (but) Jonathan Vilma’s still a great player. He’s proven that year in and year out with his performance.

“We’re definitely excited about the thought of having him back.”

Jenkins made those comments when reports were circulating that the NFL had offered to reduce Vilma’s suspension to eight games if he agreed to drop a civil lawsuit against commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL denied such an offer was made, and legal proceedings to determine Vilma’s fate are still playing out.

Lofton is not going to earn the same level of trust from the Saints that Vilma has in one offseason, but he was a well-respected player upon joining the team and the club seems to be growing more encouraged by Lofton each week.

When he signed him this spring, Saints GM Mickey Loomis praised Lofton for his versatility and ability to play any of the three linebacker positions, even though Lofton always had been a middle linebacker during his four seasons with the Falcons.

It appears more and more likely that if Vilma does return to the field this season, he will be the one feeling displaced.

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