Chargers' Lionel James Injures Right Knee Again

Times Staff Writer

Charger running back Lionel (Little Train) James suffered a twisted right knee and had to be taken from the field on a golf cart in Monday afternoon's practice at UC San Diego.

His condition won't be determined until today, when he is examined by team physician Dr. Gary Losse. An early evaluation by trainer Mark Howard indicated the knee was stable, and James was able to make it to the training table with the aid of crutches.

"I got my foot caught in the grass, and it's swollen up," James said. "I'll be OK in a few days and I should be back out there before the end of the week. I heal fast as long as there's no kryptonite around."

James, who had just signed a new three-contract worth $900,000, was injured while running a pass pattern.

Neither the head coach nor the assistant head coach saw what happened.

"I saw the play itself but not when he got hit," Coach Don Coryell said. "I thought he was hit in the groin when I saw him lying on the ground with his knees buckled."

Assistant head coach Al Saunders said he saw tight end Kellen Winslow standing over James.

"All I know is Lionel didn't get up--and that's not good," Saunders said. "Lionel says he feels fine, but he wouldn't say otherwise, he's just an optimist by nature."

Howard said the player's knee would be placed in a splint and iced Monday night.

James underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in the same knee after last season, when he led the team in rushing, receiving, kickoff and punt return yardage.

While performing nearly 75% of the year on a bad knee, he set a National Football League record with 2,535 all-purpose yards.

James, who earned $90,000 in 1985, was entering the option year of his contract and contemplated a holdout until late last week. It was then that he took out an insurance policy to protect his financial interests in the event he was hurt before a new deal could be worked out.

James accepted a new contract before practice began Sunday. His situation was reminiscent of Winslow's two years ago, when the San Diego tight end signed a five-year guaranteed contract after a weeklong "retirement" and then suffered a severe knee injury six weeks later. He is only now returning to top condition.

General Manager Johnny Sanders said it may be a couple of days before he meets with Marvin Demoff, the agent for unsigned first-round draft choice Leslie O'Neal.

"When he's ready to talk, we'll talk, but we're not going to push him," Sanders said. "We know where Leslie is going to play this year--San Diego. Sooner or later he will realize (owner) Alex Spanos is being fair and will take what we're offering."

The Chargers are believed to have presented a five-year deal for about $1.8 million, although the actual figures have not been put on paper. The terms have been discussed in principle, according to Sanders.

O'Neal is the last unsigned draft choice.

The Chargers have three defensive backs sidelined, including John Hendy (shoulder), Gill Byrd (thigh) and David King (pulled muscle) . . . Guard Jeff Walker remains out of action until next week with a pulled quadriceps muscle . . . Coryell on the O'Neal holdout: "I'm concerned, but it's not my responsibility. I keep my nose out of other people's business. My job keeps me busy."

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