The Road to Lombardi: Jonathan Vilma's home sweet home

Doug Farrar

Kurt Warner(notes) wasn't the only guy who made a great comeback after a stellar NFL beginning and a mediocre second act. New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma(notes) came out of Miami as the top-ranked player at his position in 2004, and won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Vilma led the NFL in tackles in 2005, but didn't fit in the 3-4 defense that Eric Mangini installed when he became the Jets' head coach in 2006 (Note: This is Reason #486,290 why Eric Mangini will never coach a Super Bowl team. You adapt your defense to fit talents like Vilma's, Mr. Genius -- you don't cast them aside). Mangini traded Vilma to the Saints for a fourth-round pick before the 2008 season, and Vilma immediately became a key player in a New Orleans defense struggling with run-stopping and coverage.

In 2008, he came back from a knee injury and recorded 132 tackles in the season, In 2009, under the focus of new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Vilma has truly thrived. Williams believes in a diverse set of defensive schemes above all - it's all set up to fool the opposing offense into thinking you're doing what you're not. As much as he's known for heavy blitzing, Williams is just as apt to back seven or eight guys into coverage from a blitz look as he is to bring the house. Because Vilma is able to match his gift for forward motion with an ability to drop into the seams and cover, he's the perfect man in the middle for a defense that has had a complete overhaul in the last 12 months. In the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning(notes) will think that he has short-to-intermediate stuff open, and he won't. Vilma is one of the main reasons that will be the case.