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Saints' Vilma put on IR, but can return

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The New Orleans Saints announced Tuesday that they placed linebacker Jonathan Vilma on injured reserve, but it includes a designation for him to return this season.

Vilma was a starter for the Saints last year, but his status for this season had been uncertain since he underwent knee surgery in August.

Being placed on the IR with a designation to return means Vilma, 31, cannot practice for the first six weeks of the season and cannot play in a game for the first eight weeks.

David Hawthorne is likely to start in Vilma's place in the opener against Atlanta.

Last season, the Saints ranked last in the NFL in total defense by a wide margin and have lost several starters due to injury. It creates a major challenge for new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

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