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Leaf To Return Mid-Season?

Although the medical prognosis suggests otherwise, injured quarterback Ryan Leaf said Tuesday he hopes to return to play for the San Diego Chargers by mid-season.

Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft, was back at the Chargers' UC San Diego training camp for a second day as he recovers from the shoulder injury that was expected to sideline him for perhaps the entire season.

"I hope because I'm younger and maybe will heal a little faster, maybe by Week 8 or Week 9," Leaf, 23, said. "There's a possibility that I can be back out there and play."

Leaf, who lost his starting job last season because of disappointing play, rejoined the Chargers on Monday without wearing the sling that had been necessary since he underwent surgery two weeks earlier.

His return coincided with the club resuming practice following a week in Australia that culminated with a 20-17 loss to the Denver Broncos in the exhibition opener for both teams.

"If I'm going to play this year, it's important that I push," Leaf said. "But I don't want to push it too bad to the point that I hurt it again when I get back out there. It's important that we be aggressive but be smart with it."

As evidence of his rehabilitation, Leaf wore an ice pack on his right shoulder during Tuesday's lunch break. During practice, he was restricted to observing.

"I'm out here for practice so that I can get all of the mental repetitions as well," Leaf said. "The only thing that I won't get is physical reps but those will come in time. It's been tough sitting out. I had trouble watching the game, honestly."

Chargers coach Mike Riley praised Leaf for wanting to defy the medical predictions, which had said it would take him three to four months for recovery.

"Guys need to have that kind of attitude going through rehab," Riley said. "There have been a lot of surprises in medical history, I think, of doctors thinking one thing and players coming back through hard work and doing things a little quicker. So it's great to have that spirit and attitude. It takes a lot of work."

Leaf threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted 15 times last season in 10 games, nine starts, as the Chargers finished 5-11 and in last place in the AFC West. Jim Harbaugh and Erik Kramer, both acquired during the offseason, played two series each at quarterback to open the game against the Broncos. Riley indicated both will likely go three series in Thursday's game at San Francisco.

"I'm happy that the game's coming so soon," Harbaugh said. "For me, in particular, I only played two seres the last game and didn't even get hit once. So it's nice to have a game so soon. I feel we still have a lot of learning and work to do."

The Chargers had a ragged practice Tuesday, apparently dealing with the effects of jet lag from their long trip.

"It was a little sloppy," Harbaugh said. "There were mental errors. But we can't use any excuses. I just know we have to come back with a better practice (Wednesday)."

The club placed guard Ben Bordelon (shoulder) and defensive end Israel Ifeanyichukwu (knee) on the reserve-injured list.

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