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Jonathan Vilma returns to New Orleans Saints practice

Jonathan Vilma returned to practice with the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, a huge step toward his goal of making his season debut as soon as Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With Vilma back on the field, the Saints now have a three-week period to add him to their active roster or place him on injured reserve.

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Vilma, 30, went on the physically unable to perform list in Week 2 with a lingering left knee problem. He traveled to Germany earlier this year for platelet-rich plasma therapy. Vilma also has contested NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's re-issued season-long bounty program suspension, making him eligible to play until the NFL rules on his appeal later this month.

Interim coach Aaron Kromer said Vilma "looked good" in practice and that he expected the linebacker to come back quickly because of who he is.

"All we can do is see how he practices this week, see how we can work him in, and then make a decision on a weekly basis," Kromer said.

Judging by comments from Vilma earlier in the week, the ninth-year pro is confident he'll be on the field Sunday.

"I'll be allowed to practice, I'll be allowed to play versus Tampa Bay," Vilma told WVUE-TV, via ESPN.com.

Of course, nothing's simple when it comes to Vilma. Even if he is activated for Sunday, it's unclear where Vilma -- a player in decline last season -- fits into this defense. The Saints gave Vilma's starting middle linebacker job to Curtis Lofton, who signed a big free-agent contract during the offseason.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.

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