METAIRIE, Louisiana — Jonathan Vilma's season is over and his future on the football field is in doubt.
The New Orleans Saints placed Vilma to injured reserve, ending his season — and possibly his career — only three days after he had returned for his first game of this season.
Still, his teammates expect him to be around and play a role in their success going forward.
"He's the heart and soul (of the defense). His voice speaks very, very loud," veteran safety Roman Harper said. "He's always with us. He taught me how to play this game. There's a mental aspect of what he brings to a team and the leadership aspect is matched by none. He'll still be around and still be doing whatever he needs to do.
"We've always called him player-coach anyway," Harper added. "He knows everything."
Vilma began the season on short-term injured reserve because of an arthroscopic procedure in August on his left knee, which has troubled him through multiple surgeries over the past two-plus seasons. The designation allowed the 10th-year linebacker to return to practice in Week 8 and to the active roster in Week 9.
Vilma was activated Saturday and played 12 defensive snaps in a 26-20 loss to his former team, the New York Jets, on Sunday. That represented about 20 percent of the Saints' defensive snaps. He was credited with one tackle.
Vilma was not present in the locker room at Saints headquarters when it was open to reporters on Wednesday.
After Sunday's game, Vilma said he "felt fine," but added that he was eager to see how his knee responded in the coming days.
"It felt good to get back on the field to run around, really be with the guys, be with my teammates," Vilma said.
Coach Sean Payton did not explain or even acknowledge the roster move when he met with reporters after practice Wednesday, about two hours before it had been formally posted by the NFL. Payton generally declines to address roster moves until they've been made official.
However, the coach on Monday offered few compliments when asked about Vilma's return to action in New York.
"He looked OK, rusty," Payton said. "There are some things that we have to get cleaned up."
Vilma was traded by the Jets to the Saints in 2008 and was a captain of the 2009 Super Bowl championship team.
For his first four seasons in New Orleans, Vilma started at middle linebacker and was designated as the on-field defensive play-caller, with the earpiece in his helmet that allowed him to hear the defensive coordinator's instructions before each play. That ended last season, when Vilma was unable to train with the Saints for much of the offseason because of his suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty probe. The league named Vilma a ring-leader in a cash-for-hits program administered by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Vilma denied the allegations and his suspension was overturned, but he still missed the first five games of 2012 while rehabilitating his knee. His 2012 offseason procedures included one in Germany by a specialist in platelet rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Vilma played the final 11 games of last season, but not at his regular middle linebacker spot, which was assumed by Curtis Lofton.
"The thing about JV is he's very cerebral, just like having a coach in there. He sees stuff I don't see because I'm playing. He sees the whole picture," Lofton said, describing Vilma's exhaustive studies of opponents' game video. "He's just been a great player for this team for many years. It's just a tough break for him. He spent a lot of time getting his knee ready to come back."
Notes: The Saints re-signed veteran CB Chris Carr, who'd been released last week to make room on the roster for Vilma. ... RB Darren Sproles, who left last Sunday's game in New York with concussion symptoms, practiced fully on Wednesday. ... Those missing practice were: S Malcolm Jenkins (knee), G Jahri Evans (hip), TE Jimmy Graham (elbow,foot), LB David Hawthorne (toe) and DE Cam Jordan (ankle). ... Two players were listed as limited: S Kenny Vaccaro (chest) and WR Marques Colston (knee).
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org