One of the themes that I've written about as I've reconfigured the Jets' 2009 schedule story on newyorkjets.com for a few other platforms is how many former Green & White draft picks will be playing the team that selected them for the first time this season.
There's John Abraham down in Atlanta — the Falcons will be coming to the Meadowlands on Dec. 20. Two weeks later, Laveranues Coles and the Bengals come to North Jersey to finish up the regular season at Coles' former home office. The Jets may get to meet Justin Miller, who wasn't a Raider when they played at Oakland last year but may be this year when the Jets return to Oaktown on Oct. 25. Chris Baker, now a Patriot, will play his former team twice.
And there's Jonathan Vilma.
Two years after the Jets traded Vilma, their 2004 first-round selection, 12th overall, to New Orleans, Vilma and the Saints will be greeting the Jets at the doors to the Superdome on Oct. 4.
I always enjoyed talking with Vilma when I was a beatwriter and then for most of 2007 as editor-in-chief of *newyorkjets.com. *I decided to send him an email to see if he was in a looking-back-looking-ahead mood. I didn't know if he'd have the time or inclination to get back to me.
But he emailed back. And then one day recently, he gave me a call. I asked him how were things.
"I can't complain," said Vilma, who signed a new long-term deal this off-season to remain in the middle of the Saints defense. "New Orleans has treated me very well. The environment's definitely different from New York, a slower pace. It was an adjustment. But here, as I usually do, I just tune a lot of the outside world out. No casino, no Bourbon Street. It's all football."
I asked Vilma about that contract. He never made noise about redoing his rookie deal, even though he was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2004, led the NFL in tackles and made the Pro Bowl in '05 and was named a Jets captain in '07. As usual, he was humble.
"I was very fortunate," he said. "At one point [in 2007] with the knee injury and all kinds of questions about whether I'd be able to play, you forget the long-term. But the next season, I was able to bounce back from that to perform and perform well. I didn't miss a snap during the season. It was just like I used to go, back in the day.
"The contract was rewarding. I wasn't nervous about it, just more anxious. I knew I did as much as I possibly could do on and off the field to fit into New Orleans and be a good leader."
All that being said, Vilma had no bad words to say about his four seasons with the Jets.
"I enjoyed my years up in New York. I still keep in touch with Kerry Rhodes, with Eric Barton even though he left. I keep in touch with a lot of guys. I had fun, good times," he said.
"But it's still a business. That's why I never got too high with the highs or too low with the lows. Any minute can change things in just the blink of an eye. That's what happened when I got injured and the Jets felt I wasn't a fit for the 3-4 and they wanted to make changes. That was fine with me. I was going to go somewhere and play well. It never really bothered me."
Even though he's a year removed from the Green Scene, I couldn't resist asking J-Vil if he would have liked to be turned loose in a Rex Ryan defense. He had only good things to say about his current coach, Sean Payton, but he also checked in with some of his old mates at "the U."
"I've heard nothing but good things about Rex," he said. "Ed Reed told me I would've loved to play under him, and Ray Lewis said the same thing. Kerry told me he's a real good guy and so did Shaun Ellis. Timing was everything."
Time will eventually bring Vilma and his old team and a lot of his old teammates into head-to-head competition on a Sunday in early October. How does Vilma feel about this eventual meeting? Again, he gave the perfect answer.
"Drew Brees asked me if I'm going to be extra excited for that game. I said I really don't know," he replied. "We've got you guys pretty early in the season. It's not like the hype Drew got when we went to London to play his former team [late last October vs. San Diego] and there was added emotion for him.
"By the time the season gets here, there probably will be some extra emotion. Now, well, I left with good thoughts. The fans were good to me. I really can't complain."
And with that, our conversation was done. Vilma's one request? "Just tell people to check out my Website. It's for all Vilma fans ... there's not much Jets stuff anymore."
I always thought www.JonathanVilma.com, a.k.a. "Area 51," was one of the neatest NFL player sites around. If you'd been there before he left and haven't been back, it has a similar feel and sound, alternately eerie and exotic. One thing, of course, is different, signaled by the ominous black and white words in the intro, "WHO DAT?"
It was fun talking with Vilma. He's not on our side anymore, but playing against him is the next best thing, and we'll be doing that in a little less than four months.
Where Christopher Fits In
The newest addition to the Jets' roster is Brock Christopher, who was a freshman at Missouri when Brad Smith was the Tigers' record-setting senior QB. He also was a free agent signing by Atlanta right after the draft, but the Falcons waived him on June 3 before the Jets brought him in last week.
The most interesting point about Christopher, though, is that he comes to the Jets as a fullback and long-snapping candidate after playing four seasons of linebacker, the last three as the big-tackling starter at Mike 'backer, for Mizzou
But before getting to college, he was a standout linebacker and tailback in high school. So you could argue that as a TB and LB, he learned to appreciate the fullback position. He also was the backup snapper at Missouri. He'll wear No. 32 for the Jets as they head up to Cortland for training camp, which opens exactly six weeks from Friday.