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Leaf's season left in doubt

The quarterback's sore throwing wrist might soon land him on injured reserve, ending his season with the Bucs.

[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Ryan Leaf may spend his season on injured reserve.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times,
published August 30, 2001


TAMPA -- The toughest thing for struggling quarterback Ryan Leaf to pass might be a physical.

Leaf, the Bucs' 25-year-old reclamation project since he was claimed off waivers from San Diego, was unable to practice Wednesday because of a chronically sore right wrist and is likely to be placed on injured reserve within the next few days.

Leaf is scheduled to be re-evaluated this morning, but he is listed as questionable for Friday's preseason finale at Atlanta. Doctors could recommend surgery to repair the wrist on his throwing arm that was injured with the Chargers.

The injury could make the Bucs' quarterback decision an easy one with the team having to cut its roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. Sunday. Second-year pro Joe Hamilton would be No. 3 behind starter Brad Johnson and backup Shaun King.

"It's like any other medical decision where the injury affects his ability to practice and play," assistant general manager John Idzik said.

"It's within the realm of possibility that he would (be placed on injured reserve). It really bothers him and limits his number of throws. It's bad timing, with the 53 cut coming up."

Leaf has a separation of a bone in his right wrist that team officials did not expect to worsen this season but eventually would require surgery and eight weeks of rehabilitation.

"It was something he was able to fight through in training camp, but now he can't throw," Idzik said.

If Leaf is placed on injured reserve and has surgery immediately, he would be able to start throwing again in a few months and be nearly 100 percent for the offseason program, minicamp and training camp for next season.

But it would effectively end an opportunity for Leaf to use this season as a developmental one.

Leaf signed a three-year, $10-million contract extension and is scheduled to earn $1.5-million this year and in 2002. If he still is with the team in 2003, his salary would balloon to $7-million.

On injured reserve, the Bucs would be on the hook for Leaf's salary, which they already had budgeted under the salary cap.

Even before Leaf attempted to practice Wednesday, he was aware it was unlikely the Bucs would keep all four quarterbacks, especially with the injury to center Jeff Christy.

"I think there will be somebody who will have to go," Leaf said. "There's nothing you can do about that. The coaches get paid to make those decisions. Hopefully, everything will work out in the end.

"Joe's done a tremendous job and when he's out there he always makes plays. That's hard to argue. You know, it's a coach's decision at this point. This is where I want to be. I want to be a good quarterback and I wanted to develop and I was looking forward to doing that. But you know, it's a business."

Leaf is coming off is best performance of the preseason, completing 3 of 5 for 49 yards. But before that, playing exclusively with the Bucs' third- and fourth-team offense, he was 4-for-13 for 32 yards (30.8 percent) with no touchdowns and one interception. He also had been sacked a club-high four times.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise has been Leaf's positive attitude and his acceptance of his role as a developing quarterback.

"I would think in the next few days we'll have to make a call," Idzik said. "We'll see what he feels like (today) and go from there. It's a tough call because you're ending his developmental year. But you have to do what's best for him."

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