I realize the thought of a Saints defensive player being named Defensive Player of the Year sounds ridiculous. I am not necessarily saying Vilma will earn that honor this season, or even be in the conversation in 2009.
But down the road, in two or three years, I think it is a possibility. Here's why:
Vilma is just going into his sixth year in the league. He proved to be healthy a season ago, and had his best season since his second year in the league in 2005. Linebackers generally have their best seasons in years six through 10 of their careers. That's Ray Lewis, that's Derrick Brooks, and several others.
While Vilma will be learning his third different defense in three seasons, Gregg Williams is smart enough to know to build it around his best player, who is clearly Vilma.
There are some things to look for in Williams' system, that will allow Vilma to have even greater success than he did a season ago.
The first is allowing Vilma to continue reading and reacting when playing the run. This would be most effective since Vilma has great anticipatory skills and his range is also a strength of his at this point.
Second, Vilma will continue to be used in pass coverage quite a bit where he recorded six passes defensed a season ago. He is good in man and zone coverage, which will allow Williams to mix coverage schemes up quite a bit.
Additionally, with an improved secondary, teams will have to check down and throw those short intermediate routes over the middle quite a bit more than in years past. As a result, Vilma will have more chances to come up with interceptions, passes defensed, and tackles.
Third, because Gregg Williams is such an aggressive defensive coordinator, look for Vilma to be given more opportunities than in any of the previous defenses he has played in, to blitz and get after the quarterback. It should work because Sedrick Ellis will likely command double teams, freeing up the middle for Vilma to come flying through to put a hurtin' on number 17, or number 2, or the revolving door in Tampa Bay (those of course are the numbers of the starting QBs for the Saints division rivals).
From a statistics standpoint, it will take Vilma improving greatly for him to ever have a chance at the aforementioned honor. But let's not forget that like so many individual awards, team success plays a large role in this award. In this case, it applies more to that side of the ball.
Therefore, perhaps the largest key to Vilma having a chance to win such an award is the quality of defense the Saints play under Gregg Williams. If they become a bunch of ball-hawking, bone-crushing animals flying all over the field and making plays, people will take notice, and the leaders of that defense will be given the recognition they deserve.
Considering how frightful the defense has been the past few years, most Saints fans either think I'm smoking something, or their angry that I would mock them to such a degree.
The truth is, though, I am just trying to pass around some hope. Hope for the future that the Saints defense can in fact be great. Hope that with such a defense, and an already explosive offense, the Saints could become great. Hope that 2013 could end with the Saints becoming the first team ever to host the Super Bowl. But hope that 2009 will be the Saints' first trip to a Super Bowl.
I don't think it's a pipe dream, it could happen. Heck, the Orlando Magic beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland. If that could happen, I think the Saints could become great.