Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma has never missed a start due to injury since joining the Saints in 2008. But a knee injury suffered against Chicago - which he returned to play on - hasn't improved this week. Vilma has been unable to practice and was listed as doubtful on the injury report on Friday.
So while the Saints get DE Will Smith, their best defensive lineman, back this week from suspension, they stand to lose Vilma, their best defensive player. According to advancednflstats.com, Vilma has been the best defensive player for the Saints each year since joining the team. In 2009, the statistical analysis site graded Vilma as the best linebacker in the NFL.
In his place, experienced backup Jo-Lonn Dunbar would start. Versatile Dunbar, 26, 6'0, 226, who started eight games at outside linebacker last season, moved to middle linebacker this offseason and has had success. Dunbar actually was credited with a start against Chicago as the Saints opened with a four-linebacker front, and he brings more athleticism to the backup position that Marvin Mitchell held down since 2007.
Also a great special teams player, Dunbar has been with the Saints since 2008, when he made the team as an undrafted rookie and made a name for himself delivering hammering blocks on special teams.