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Saints LB Casillas on the mend, on the hunt for knowledge

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas works against a blocker at Saints Training Camp in August 2011 (Photo: Parker Waters).Linebacker Jonathan Casillas works against a blocker at Saints Training Camp in August 2011 (Photo: Parker Waters).

Linebacker Jonathan Casillas works against lineman Zach Streif at New Orleans Saints Training Camp in August 2011 (Photo: Parker Waters).

METAIRIE – New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas, an upbeat 24-year-old with a promising future, has seen a lot during his first two NFL seasons.

As the only undrafted rookie free agent to make the Saints’ roster in 2009, Casillas started two games and played in nine more, primarily on special teams during the team’s Super Bowl XLIV run.

Last season, he was poised to open at weakside linebacker before suffering a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in the team’s final preseason game. He underwent season-ending surgery in September and a second procedure in November and continues to wear orthotics in all his shoes.

Then, the NFL Lockout took root in March and an unprecedented 131-day work stoppage left Casillas and 1,900 decertified players on the outside looking in at their sport.

Now, Casillas is back on the practice field, using training camp to work himself back into football shape. He is battling veteran linebacker Scott Shanle, among others, for a starting job and hopes that he has “turned the corner’’ for good after a lengthy and arduous rehabilitation.

Essentially, Casillas is proving himself all over again and trying to regain the confidence of Coach Sean Payton, Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams and Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Coach Joe Vitt.

In other words, Casillas’ NFL education is ongoing.

“I felt like I was immature coming out of college (at Wisconsin), not because of the person I was but because of my age (21),’’ Casillas said, describing himself at the time of his entry into the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent in April 2009. “I hadn’t really seen a lot of things. I hadn’t experienced too many things. I had to grow up fast.

“Getting thrown out there as a free agent (in 2009) and missing last year, I could have gone in the dumps, called it quits, or just been down. But I stayed motivated.

“What happened to me last year was very frustrating. I felt my preseason went very well and I had put in a lot of hard work. I felt like it got taken away from me. It was very heartbreaking, but, at the same time, I knew I would have another chance this year. I had to put it all behind me and worry about my rehab. I had to be all in with it because it was a long process, and if I wasn’t dedicated to it, I wouldn’t be here right now. I wouldn’t be on the practice field.’’

Casillas said he has paid close attention to current and former NFL players, including celebrated teammates Drew Brees, Jonathan Vilma and Darren Sharper, and taken copious notes.

He calls them “words to live by.’’

“I watched a lot of older players,’’ Casillas said. “When Drew talks, I close out everything and listen to him; same thing with Vilma and all the older guys. Man, I ask as many questions as possible,

“When I was training out in Arizona, I was working out with (Pittsburgh Steelers safety, LSU and Shaw High School standout) Ryan Clark and asking him questions. I ask Darren Sharper questions all the time. We’re talking about potential Hall of Famers here. I’m just trying to soak up as much knowledge from the vets as possible and be the best person and player I can be. I want to be like them.

"I wish I can play 13 or 14 years in this league,'' Casillas continued. "I’m only on Year 3 and I’m missing one year already. I wish I got 10 more. I hope so. I want to do the right things because I still don’t know how to get to 10, or how to get to 11. I’m still trying to get there. I’m still learning.’’

One day at a time.



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