Casillas on track for strong comeback

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Jonathan Casillas has a screw in his left foot where ligaments had to be reattached following a season-ending injury nearly one year ago.

The third-year Saints linebacker said he can still feel it, but his New Orleans teammates and coaches are pleasantly surprised how hard it is for them to notice any lingering effects.

''He's been doing great,'' defensive captain and middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma said. ''The best thing that he did was push himself to rehab and get ready and get 100 percent. You can see that he took a tremendous amount of time getting his body back right to being able to come out here and perform.''

A year ago, Casillas had the inside lane to the first starting assignment of his young career. Playing weakside linebacker, Casillas turned heads with 10 tackles in the Saints' 2010 preseason opener at New England.

He wound up second on the team with 18 preseason tackles, including three tackles for losses and a sack, but lost his job when ligaments tore away from his Lisfranc joint in the final preseason game.

Following surgery and months of rehabilitation, he was able to participate in the Saints' first practice of training camp, and led tacklers with seven in New Orleans' 2011 preseason-opening victory over San Francisco last weekend.

Casillas had a sack among two tackles for losses in that game, and was credited with three quarterback hits, but was quick to downplay the performance.

''I never want to be comfortable,'' Casillas said. ''It was a pretty decent showing, but I had a lot of things on film that I need to correct.

''I can run. It definitely feels good. But at the same time, I've still got to get my technique down. If anything is lacking this year, it's my technique and it's little things.''

Casillas missed his first practice on Thursday evening, but not for health reasons. He was excused for the expected birth of his child.

In 2009, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound former standout at Wisconsin was the only rookie free agent to earn a spot on the Saints' regular season roster. He played in 11 games, even starting twice. He also got into all three playoff games, including the Saints' Super Bowl triumph over Indianapolis.

Saints coaches had high hopes for Casillas before his injury last season, and their expectations have been largely restored with his showing in the current training camp.

''He's looked healthy,'' coach Sean Payton said this week. ''I've been encouraged, and he's one of the guys, when you see him moving around, he's got some quick twitch. So, he's doing well.''

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams echoed Payton's praise for the way Casillas has looked in practice, but cautioned that the NFL is a production-based business, and that Casillas has to prove he can remain healthy enough to keep playing.

Casillas appears to have taken the message to heart.

''I'm trying to do my best to stay out of the training room,'' he said. ''I haven't really figured that out since I've been in the league, but hopefully I can put it together this year.''

Casillas has been working mostly with the first team, again at weakside linebacker.

Vilma said Casillas is well-suited for the position, given ''his speed, his ability to close down on plays, and accelerate through the ball carrier.''

''He may be a little light, but he's very physical,'' Vilma added. ''As long as we can keep him healthy, he's tremendous.''

Notes: Payton said OT Alex Barron (left knee) was placed on injured reserve and replaced on the roster by CB Quincy Butler. ... S Chris Reis was also excused from practice for the expected birth of a child. ... CB Tracy Porter (left knee) practiced on a limited basis but Payton says he won't play Saturday night at Houston. ... FS Malcolm Jenkins (right knee) was limited in practice and was expected to play. ... RG Jahri Evans (left knee) rested a second straight day but also is expected to play. ... TE Tory Humphrey (right knee) and CB Leigh Torrence (right hip) didn't practice. Payton said they are questionable. ... Missing practice and ruled out for the game were LB Ezra Butler (groin), LB Ramon Humber (right quad), LB Clint Ingram (right hamstring), RB Joique Bell (left knee), DT Tom Johnson (left calf), CB Johnny Patrick (right knee), DE Jeff Charleston (left ankle) and CB Fabian Washington (hamstring).

Tagged: Saints, Jonathan Vilma, Jonathan Casillas

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