One of the foggiest injury situations of the preseason cleared up Wednesday: New Orleans rookie running back Ricky Williams has been cleared to play in the season opener.
Williams, injured after only nine carries in the Saints' first exhibition game of the year, was given the go-ahead to play in the Sept. 12 opener against the Carolina Panthers after a second MRI of his strained ankle, team trainer Dean Kleinschmidt said.
The team expected Williams to return for the opener all along, and had repeatedly denied reports that he would miss the first two games of the year.
Williams will sit out the final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. He has not practiced or played since Aug. 13, but began limited drills on the injured ankle this week, under the supervision of Saints trainers.
"It's not that big of a deal," Williams said Wednesday. "You just go along, go along, start playing and you play. It's not like it's traumatized me or anything to not be ready. It's just a progression and when I'm ready, I'll be on the field."
Shane Matthews, not former UCLA quarterback Cade McNown, will start the Sept. 12 season opener against Kansas City and play "the vast majority" of the game, Chicago Coach Dick Jauron said. But McNown, the 12th overall pick of the 1999 draft, will play in a time-share arrangement.
Jauron said this doesn't rule out McNown becoming the starter at some point this season. Part of the reasoning is that McNown simply isn't ready after getting to training camp 11 days late.
Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith took a second day off from practice to be with his ailing father, and said he'll rejoin the team today. Smith's father has been troubled by several ailments, including emphysema. . . . Green Bay rookie punter Josh Bidwell underwent surgical treatment for a suspected case of testicular cancer, according to Packer General Manager Ron Wolf. A Packer spokesperson said the surgery took place Wednesday afternoon and that doctors would know more about Bidwell's condition in the next two days.
Former Detroit coach Wayne Fontes' claim that he suffered injuries while coaching wasn't credible, a magistrate at Detroit wrote in denying Fontes worker disability compensation. Fontes insisted he was hurt first during a game in 1989 and again Nov. 12, 1995, during a game against Tampa Bay. While he was talking to his defensive squad on the sidelines, the Lions' offense turned the ball over, and the defense rushed onto the field, he said. Two players hit his shoulders, and a third knocked him to the ground, he said. . . . Baltimore defensive end Michael McCrary, in the final year of a three-year contract, returned to the team after skipping the last two days of practice over a contract dispute. McCrary said if he doesn't get an extension before the Sept. 12 season-opener, he will test the free-agent market.
The Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers traded first-round disappointments, the Eagles sending defensive end Jon Harris to Green Bay in return for offensive tackle John Michels. . . . San Diego safety Rodney Harrison was fined $15,000 by the NFL for hitting St. Louis Ram receiver Isaac Bruce with his helmet twice on Friday.
Benched Denver quarterback Bubby Brister returned to practice and pledged his support to new starter Brian Griese. But during a candid news conference, Brister added he felt deceived by Coach Mike Shanahan and felt he was being made the "fall guy" for team-wide breakdowns during the exhibition season. He also indicated he probably would have quit the team had it been an issue only between him and Shanahan.
Minnesota Viking owner Red McCombs issued a brief statement after a report in Wednesday's Minneapolis Star Tribune that he was prepared to move the team if necessary. McCombs' statement said, in part: "I have never mentioned at any time to anyone moving the Minnesota Vikings. . . . I have never mentioned to anyone at any time the issue of breaking the lease on the Metrodome."