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Hearst Set For Ankle Surgery

San Francisco 49ers tailback Garrison Hearst will undergo surgery on his left ankle Saturday in Baltimore and the operation could sideline the six-year veteran for most, if not all, of the 1999 season. The operation will be performed by orthopedist Michael Mont, agent Pat Dye Jr. confirmed for SportsLine on Tuesday evening.

Niners officials told Dye the normal rehabilitation period for such surgery is 14-16 weeks. If that is the case, Hearst might be available to the team for the final month of the season.

"I'm sure the team is trying to be conservative in its approach to this," Dye said. "We're still optimistic Garrison can play most of the season, but we'll just have to see how the recovery proceeds. The good part is, this is still more encouraging than the initial reports we got."

The loss of Hearst almost certainly will exacerbate the 49ers' pursuit of free agent tailback Lawrence Phillips. It was believed Phillips would make a decision Tuesday on his future, deciding from offers of three teams. The Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers are the other teams still in the running for Phillips, whose agent, Mitch Frankel did not return phone calls Tuesday. An official from one of clubs involved with Phillips said the player "is having a really tough time" making a choice.

Doctors feared Hearst, 28, suffered from avascular necrosis, a condition in which lack of circulation causes a bone to die. The condition prematurely ended the football career of former Raiders running back Bo Jackson.

Hearst fractured his ankle on the opening snap of a playoff defeat at Atlanta on Jan. 9. He established a franchise record in 1998 for rushing for 1,570 yards.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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