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METAIRIE -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Shanle experienced a career first on the opening day of his 10th NFL training camp.
Before going through the team's initial workout late Thursday afternoon, Shanle testified in New Orleans federal court on behalf of fellow teammate Jonathan Vilma in his attempt to gain a temporary restraining order on a season-long suspension for his role in the bounty scandal.
Shanle was one of six current and former teammates along with Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt who appeared on behalf of Vilma during the six-hour hearing before Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan. Strong safety Roman Harper, linebacker Jonathan Casillas and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis joined Shanle as character witnesses. All four players returned late to practice but acting head coach Joe Vitt said they did not miss any meaningful work.
Berrigan did not render a decision Thursday and it's uncertain when she will. It could come within days or weeks but with each passing day the 2012 regular season inches closer. Meantime, Vilma remains on the league's reserve/suspended list and is prohibited from any interaction with the team.
"We are all hoping something positive will come from this in favor of Jonathan,'' Shanle said after the 145-minute unpadded workout that was moved to the team's indoor facility because of inclement weather. "He really wants to be back with the team, whether it's rehabbing, or lifting (weights), or going to meetings while this thing plays out. As you know this time of year is very crucial to getting back into the swing of football.''
Shanle said he spent between five to 10 minutes on the witness stand fielding questions from lawyers representing both Vilma and the NFL. One of the questions from an NFL lawyer involved a newspaper story where Shanle freely admitted to participating in a pay-for-performance program under former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams.
"From the questions I got to the answers I gave, I feel (Vilma) has a strong case,'' Shanle said. "We are saying that we as teammates and as coaches - and I'm sure there are guys from around the league, too -- that we feel like the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
"JV asked me to do this and I wanted to help him out. It just shows how many people have his back. A lot of people felt like he's been done wrong, that the severity of the punishment doesn't fit the crime at all. We don't even feel there is a crime.''
Shanle said he didn't know if he shed new light on the case but he, along with Vilma and other players, were able to explain in a court of law their meaning of such hot-button words as "cart off,'' "whack,'' "knockout'' and "kill the head.''
"I think there were terms, words, verbage that (league officials) saw and their eyes got wide, like 'WOW!, we have something here,' '' Shanle said. "But they didn't understand what they meant and I think they kind of jumped the gun as far as understanding what we were saying when we were saying those things.
"In my opinion, if they had been more patient, and let it play out a little bit more, it wouldn't have gotten where it is.''
Practice resumes Friday without Vilma, who remains hopeful that Judge Berrigan will put a halt to the season-long suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Today definitely has been odd,'' Shanle said. "You'd never think you have to do something like this, especially on the first day of training camp, going from that courtroom setting where you see Jon sitting there, then on to the football field.
"It's been odd but it's definitely something that we were happy to do, to be there for a teammate. It was good to be there for him. I'm just glad he's getting this opportunity to present his case in front of a judge.''
There are those in Vilma's corner who staunchly believe that a judge, jury and executioner -- all rolled into one -- already have ruled.
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