Saints Notebook: Lehr signs, Vilma speaks

The New Orleans Saints started their offseason workout program this week and plenty of news came out of it, including a press conference by new linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Sean Payton's take on Deuce McAllister's rehab and the signing of backup center/guard Matt Lehr. Find out more inside.

The Saints made a move to add some experience to their offensive line when they signed unrestricted free agent Matt Lehr to a one-year contract.

Lehr, an eight-year NFL veteran, is a guard/center who played last season with Tampa Bay. He has also spent time with Dallas, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2001 draft, and Atlanta -- with whom he started 26 games in 2005 and '06.

Lehr, who has started 48 of 85 games he's played in, considered an offer from the Denver Broncos before signing with the Saints. He is expected to compete with center Jonathan Goodwin for the starting job after two-year starter Jeff Faine signed with Tampa Bay early in free agency.

"The opportunity to be with a team on the rise was important," said Lehr, who started 16 games at guard for the Cowboys in 2003 when Saints coach Sean Payton was on Bill Parcells' staff. "Everybody knows the Saints have one of the best quarterbacks (Drew Brees) in the game. It's an explosive offense."

Lehr served a four-game suspension in 2006 when he was with Atlanta for a violation of the NFL's steroid policy. He was scheduled to begin participating in the team's off-season program on Monday.

PAYTON ON MCALLISTER: Saints coach Sean Payton spoke for the first time last week since a mutual decision by team officials and running back Deuce McAllister to push back a scheduled $1 million roster bonus for the 2008 season.

McAllister, 29, is coming off surgery on both knees. He underwent reconstructive surgery on his left knee after tearing his ACL in a Week 3 game with the Tennessee Titans and at the same time had a microfracture procedure on his right knee.

McAllister, the club's all-time leading rusher, agreed to push back the date of the roster bonus from March 15 to April 15 to allow him more time to rehab and prove that he'll be ready for the 2008 season.

"I think Deuce and the organization have a great relationship. I think it's both sides mutually coming to a decision," Payton said at a news conference on March 17. "I think Deuce said it best. I think it's in the best interest of both parties to push that date back.

"He's working hard with his rehab. I saw him today, and he looks good. It was certainly a decision both parties felt good about."

VILMA SPEAKS: Newly-acquired middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma spoke with reporters and updated the health of his surgically repaired right knee on the first day of the team's offseason program last week.

Vilma, who was obtained from the New York Jets in exchange for a conditional draft pick on Feb. 29, played in just seven games last season before undergoing season-ending surgery on the knee.

The Saints are hoping that Vilma will return to the form that he showed in his first three NFL seasons as they try to improve their 26th-ranked defense.

"I plan to spend as much time as I can here in New Orleans," Vilma said of the Saints' 12-week program. "I have been rehabbing down in Miami and I have a trainer down there, so both trainers will be talking with each other and deciding what's best for me.

"I don't want to give a percentage, but I'll say I'm right where I need to be," he said. "It's been progressing very well and I haven't had any setbacks, knock on wood."

MCKENZIE THE BUSINESSMAN: Saints cornerback Mike McKenzie, who is recovering from a torn right ACL, is among 114 veteran players taking part in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program this off-season.

The program is part of an NFL-NFLPA initiative to assist players in preparing for their careers after football. Players attended classes at the Harvard Business School, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

McKenzie took courses at the Wharton School in late February and will return for another session set for March 25-27.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's not enough to just improve the defense. You hope to improve to the point where you're winning. If you're not winning games, and divisions, and going to Super Bowls, you have not improved enough. You have to improve the defense and be able to win with the defense." -- Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma, on the team's defensive changes.

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