Originally created 09/25/98

Ex-Tiger ready for new start



TEMPE, Ariz. -- Three years into his NFL career, former Clemson player Patrick Sapp is still dealing with questions about whether he's completed the transition from quarterback to linebacker.

"Frankly, I'm tired of it," Sapp said this week after practicing with the Arizona Cardinals' first-team defense for the first time. "That's one thing I wanted to shake this year. Coming to a new team gave me a chance to set up ground for myself, set a stage for my career."

For the second time, an injury may thrust Sapp onto the field before anyone knows if he's ready.

Jamir Miller, an outside linebacker who had a career-high 139 1/2 tackles last season, dislocated his left wrist Sunday against Philadelphia and was listed as doubtful for the next game against St. Louis.

Miller didn't know for three days whether he would need surgery, but orthopedic hand surgeon Robert Wilson put a cast on his arm Wednesday, said the ligaments should heal and told Miller he might be able to play this weekend.

"I tend to heal fast, but the thing is I need to be able to evaluate if I can punch with it or not," Miller said. "If I can, I may be up to the task; if I can't, it'll be another week."

At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, Sapp is an inch shorter and nearly as heavy as Miller.

He may also be almost as good an athlete. Miller was a first-round draft choice of the Cardinals in 1994, and San Diego took Sapp in the second round in 1996 even though he was an option quarterback his first three years in college.

Sapp, who passed Clemson to a victory over Kentucky in the 1993 Peach Bowl, was 11th in Tigers career passing records before he decided in the offseason he had no future as an NFL quarterback. He told coach Tommy West early in 1995 that he wanted to move to linebacker.

He had 53 tackles, including 5 1/2 sacks, and two interceptions as a senior and persuaded the Chargers to take a chance on him.

"I think playing quarterback actually helped my chances a little bit as far as picking things up," Sapp said.

But he wasn't ready when injuries to starters forced the Chargers to play him against Oakland on Sept. 22, 1996. Sapp had to ask other players where to line up.

Last year, Sapp started nine games for the Chargers, who traded him to Arizona along with two first-round draft choices and wide receiver Eric Metcalf to get the Cardinals' first-round choice and draft Ryan Leaf.

Sapp was better prepared when Miller had to come out of the game with the Eagles with a small bone in his wrist wrenched out of place. He finished the game with three tackles and caused a fumble.

"He played decently, but he's got to play better," defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis said. "He's by no means a finished product. I mean, it's an ongoing process with him, but we're in the middle of it now. We're in the middle of the war. I'm not worried about progress: I want results."

Defensive tackle Eric Swann believes Sapp will do fine if Miller has to sit out.

"He's a good player, and this defense will believe in him," Swann said. "There's not a guy on this team that we don't believe when a starter is out for any reason, that the guy won't stop up and fill his shoes. So we're very confident in Sapp that he can get the job done."