Jonathan Vilma decision looming

The New Orleans Saints have until 4 p.m. ET on Saturday to decide whether they will activate linebacker Jonathan Vilma in time for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

While a final decision has yet to be made, a source told ESPN's Ed Werder that Vilma has practiced well and should expect 20 or so defensive snaps against Tampa Bay.

Sunday might be the only chance for Vilma -- who is recovering from a knee surgery -- to get back on the field this season if his bounty suspension, on appeal, winds up going back into effect in about a week or so.

He returned to practice Wednesday, although he did not work with the first-team defense. He practiced without wearing any kind of brace or sleeve on his surgically repaired left knee.

Vilma had several offseason procedures done on his knee, which had slowed him last season and sidelined him five games. He even traveled to Germany to see a specialist in platelet-rich plasma therapy, a relatively new blood-spinning technique also used by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Vilma's initial season-long suspension was handed down in May and went into effect in July after his initial appeal was rejected. That suspension lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeal panel that instructed commissioner Roger Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending Vilma and three others -- Saints defensive end Will Smith, free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita -- in connection with New Orleans' cash-for-hits bounty pool.

Because of his rehabilitation, Vilma was placed on the Saints' physically unable to perform list when his initial suspension was lifted, a move that saved the Saints a roster spot and also prevented Vilma from practicing or playing during the first six weeks of the regular season.

The suspensions were reissued last week and promptly appealed by all four players, with appeal hearings set for next Tuesday at NFL headquarters in New York. Vilma remains suspended for the season and Smith for four games. Hargrove's suspension was reduced from eight to seven games and Fujita's from three to one.

Information from ESPN's Ed Werder and The Associated Press was used in this report.