CHARGER NOTEBOOK / DON PATTERSON : Vlasic Makes Solid Return at Quarterback

You're best performance in a while, Mark Vlasic?

A quick laugh.

"My first performance in a while," he said.

Saturday night, Vlasic, the Charger's No. 2 quarterback, played in a real game for the first time since he went down with a knee injury Nov. 20, 1988 against the Rams. Last season, his contributions were confined to the sidelines, where he impressed Coach Dan Henning with his ability to learn the game plan and help with the signals.

"He handled it like a career coach," Henning said. "He has a great temperament. He doesn't lose his concentration. He has a steadying effect on the players around him."

One other thing, too. The guy can play. Saturday, spelling starter Billy Joe Tolliver in the second half, Vlasic completed 11 of 13 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown in the Chargers' 28-16 victory over Dallas. No interceptions, either.

So is there a quarterback controversy around the bend?

"We will continue to practice and prepare the way we started training camp," Henning said. "(We will) try to prepare Billy to start and get as much work as we can for Mark."

Certainly, Tolliver didn't hurt his cause, completing nine of 15 passes for 108 yards with no interceptions. But Henning sees plenty of room for improvement.

"He is nowhere near where we want him to be and nowhere near where he wants to be," he said. "He wants to be a first-rate NFL quarterback. He played better in that game than he has in any practice or any scrimmage up to now, which is the way we hope it works because we put a great deal more strain on him in practice. We don't hold back anything."

Henning said he may start John Friesz, the Chargers' rookie quarterback, Saturday night against the Rams in Anaheim. Friesz didn't play Saturday.

Linebacker Richard Brown, a former San Diego State player who played in 1987 and 1989 for the Rams, looked strong Saturday, making three tackles and sacking Cowboy quarterback Troy Aikman for a six-yard loss in the first quarter.

Brown said last week that he will either make this team or give up football.

"And he plays like it," Henning said. "There's nobody that works harder and is more focused at practicing hard to do the things that we're asking him to do.

"He's a tough guy. He's a great guy to have out there. Some of these guys don't even want to be around him that much. He's no fun right now. It looks like if you get close to him he may just freak out and deck you. And I like that. I give him a wide berth, though."

Outside linebacker Billy Ray Smith (bruised thigh) and cornerback Gill Byrd (fluid on the knee) suffered minor injuries in Saturday's game. Henning said both will probably miss practice this week and may miss Saturday's game.

"You never like to see anybody injured," Henning said. "But two guys that can afford to miss the work and come back and pick it up quickly when they're healthy are Billy Ray and Gill."

Yes, that was the Dallas Cowboys, worst team in the NFL last season, but, nonetheless, Henning was pleasantly surprised with the sharpness of his team's first performance.

"We had very few missed assignments," he said. "We didn't have any turnovers. We played a sound, solid football game. I'd say it was better than I expected."

Inside linebacker Cedric Figaro and tight end Andy Parker are still out with injuries they suffered during a fight in Thursday's practice. Figaro has an ankle sprain with soreness on the top of his foot and Parker has loose teeth that had to be wired after the fight. Henning said Parker won't participate in contact drills today, and Figaro will likely be held out of practice.

The Cowboys will be practicing with the Chargers today and Tuesday at UCSD before leaving town Thursday night.

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