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Sore Shoulder Sidelines Leaf

So much for Ryan Leaf getting through the first 10 days of practice unscathed.

Leaf missed his second straight day of practice Friday because his surgically repaired right shoulder was sore and stiff, proving that winning back the San Diego Chargers' starting quarterback job won't be a quick, painless process.

While Leaf thinks he'll be ready to play in the exhibition opener a week from Saturday at San Francisco, coach Mike Riley isn't so sure. It's been 19 months since Leaf last played, and Riley had a message for fans who want to see what kind of arm he has after that long of a layoff.

"Tell everybody that Jim Harbaugh's our starting quarterback and Moses (Moreno) is a competitor and Ryan Leaf's the X-factor," Riley said. "We don't know where he's going to be and we're going to let that play out. That's really how I've envisioned it for quite a while."

Riley huddled with Leaf, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft who had a disastrous rookie season, for a few minutes after the morning practice.

"He felt bad about missing time and felt he needed to be in there," Riley said. "I just told him to think of the long term here. I told him, `Think of a 15-year career, and think of one practice now.'"

Just before camp started, Riley said he hoped Leaf could get through the first 10-14 days without a setback that would sideline him 2-3 days. That's exactly what this is.

Riley wants to see Leaf play in the exhibition season, and now knows the Chargers have to take it easy with him.

"I think the worst thing is to force him physically and have him not feel good and then just prolong it," said Riley, who added that it's natural that Leaf would feel pain after having two surgeries since last July.

The coach did let Leaf take some extra throws earlier this week. "It might have screwed it up," Riley said.

Leaf threw a few passes during the warmup drill before the afternoon practice and wanted to go, but the Chargers said no.

"The best thing about that is that he got over some soreness and felt good enough to play again, and now he should realize that soreness is natural, and because it's sore it's not a catastrophe," Riley said.

Leaf said his shoulder felt fine the first two days of camp, and his passes were crisp and accurate. But after a day off Sunday, he said it's been sore ever since.

"I guess I felt real good this afternoon," Leaf said. "I wanted to go but they shut me down. Hopefully they have my best interests at hand."

Lef said his shoulder is "just tired."

"It tightens up pretty quick. I mean, I can get it loosened up but it stiffens pretty quick if I don't go right away. It's kind of tough when we go six reps for Jim, six reps for Moses and then me. I've got to wait 12 plays."

Leaf knows he's falling further behind the 36-year-old Harbaugh and Moreno, who's made only one NFL start. But it also sounds like he listened to Riley's little pep talk.

"At this point I feel like Jim and Moses are the guys who are vying for it and I'm just trying to get my arm better. If the opportunity presents itself, then I take advantage of it," Leaf said. "Right now we're just worrying about getting the shoulder better and not about being on the field."

Leaf tore shoulder cartilage 20 minutes into the first workout of last year's training camp and had surgery. He missed the entire season with the injury and a four-week suspension for cursing at then-general manager Bobby Beathard. He had surgery again in January to clean out the shoulder.

Notes

  • Riley said TE Freddie Jones' dislocated finger is setting back the offense. He could be out for up to a week.
  • S Rodney Harrison, already limited by a bruised right biceps, now has a strained Achilles' tendon; G Kevin Gogan (ankle) probably won't practice again until Monday; DE Al Fontenot (ankle) could be out for a week; WR Curis Conway remains limited by a hamstring injury; and TE Steve Heiden suffered a slight concussion.
  • LB Eric Hill will decide this weekend whether to retire or have surgery to correct a bone spur on his spinal column.

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