Originally created 05/24/00

NFL notes: Testaverde passes first major rehab test



Untouched, Vinny Testaverde fell to the turf. Back-up quarterback Ray Lucas came sprinting over to check on the fallen New York Jets quarterback.

A recurring nightmare? No, just a slip on the wet field Tuesday for Testaverde, who quickly picked himself up and got right back to work.

Still, there were plenty of concerned looks when Testaverde, coming back from a torn Achilles' tendon that cost him all of the 1999 season, went down during the team's first minicamp practice. That concern immediately was erased when Testaverde made it clear he was all right.

"I had the wrong shoes on," Testaverde said sheepishly. "It was a wet turf and I didn't have the right shoes. Ray came running over to help me up."

Testaverde didn't need the help, and the Jets hope he won't need Lucas' help very much this season. With so much off-season turmoil, from coaching changes to trading star receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the team could use some ho-hum.

That's not likely to happen, though, and Tuesday's first full day of minicamp drew a large media turnout. Most were on hand to see how Testaverde looked, even if it was only in 7-on-7 drills without pads.

"I had a nervous stomach the last couple days, anticipating this," said Testaverde, now in the ninth month of a recovery that generally takes eight to 12 months. "I was looking forward to getting around the guys and taking some snaps and being part of the team.

"The next big test is the first game, when I go live against another team and I have to push off it and move around a bit. You don't do that in practice."

At 36, Testaverde is closing in on the end of an up-and-down career. Basically a journeyman, he had his best season in 1998, leading the Jets to the AFC title game and a 12-4 record. There was Super Bowl talk last year -- until he went down in the second quarter of the opener.

A torn Achilles' tendon is one of the most difficult injuries for an athlete to overcome, particularly one in his mid-30s. But for the Jets to be a legitimate contender this season, they almost certainly need the '98 version of Testaverde, and definitely not the '99 model.

Al Groh, who took over from Bill Parcells as coach, had better hope Testaverde is more than all right this season. Groh needs big numbers from his quarterback, and lots of leadership, particularly with Johnson gone.

"Vinny has been on the field in a number of occasions already this spring," Groh said, referring to passing workouts. "That type of lift for the players, of him being back in the saddle, came several weeks ago. But that is not to minimize that it is uplifting for the organization to see him out there."

IRVIN UPDATE:

Michael Irvin, one of the NFL's great receivers, has been advised by doctors to stop playing football because of a spinal condition and he plans to retire, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Tuesday.

The Dallas Cowboys' all-time leading receiver is uncertain when he will announce his retirement, the newspaper said.

A member of the Cowboys' organization, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Irvin has spinal stenosis, a congenital condition that could cause permanent paralysis, and he met with the player about it at training headquarters the past week, the Star-Telegram reported.

Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said the team has not heard anything official from the 34-year-old receiver and the decision is up to him.

The Cowboys have already moved to replace Irvin in the lineup with their February trade for Joey Galloway.

Irvin has established himself over 12 seasons as one of the NFL's best receivers. His final catch was the 750th of his career, tying him for No. 10 in league history.

But Irvin hasn't played since becoming temporarily paralyzed after his head slammed to the ground following a catch Oct. 10 in Philadelphia. He later learned he has a genetic condition -- a narrow spinal cord -- that makes him more susceptible to serious injury if he takes another blow to the head or neck.

The neck problems forced Irvin to go on injured reserve Dec. 4, ending his season.

FALCONS:

Atlanta released wide receiver Chris Calloway, a 10-year veteran who joined the team last season after seven years with the New York Giants.

Calloway, who started six games last year, caught 334 passes for the Giants, third in team history.

Also, Atlanta signed sixth-round draft choice Mareno Philyaw, a wide receiver from Troy State. Terms were not disclosed.

Philyaw caught 32 passes for 632 yards in his college career. The 6-foot-2, 211-pounder also played quarterback for the Trojans.

The Falcons have signed all six of their draft choices.

DOLPHINS:

Quarterback Scott Zolak, who played in only one game last season for the Miami Dolphins, has been waived.

The nine-year veteran signed with the Dolphins last October as a free agent and played in a victory over New England when Damon Huard was sidelined by a broken nose. Zolak had no completions in four attempts.

Huard, Jay Fiedler and Jim Druckenmiller were ahead of Zolak on the depth chart.

Miami also waived tight end Rich O'Donnell.