9/20/2004, 6:32 p.m. CT
By MARY FOSTER
The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister sat in the locker room Monday, his foot in a heavy orthopedic boot, saying he thought he'd be able to play soon — maybe even this coming weekend.


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He won't.

"He'll probably be out four to five weeks," coach Jim Haslett said.

McAllister was injured on his third carry in the Saints' 30-27 victory over the San Francisco ***** on Sunday. San Francisco defensive tackle Bryant Young grabbed McAllister's ankle and the pain was immediate, causing McAllister to drop the football.

"I felt it pop," said McAllister, who set franchise records in 2003 for yards from scrimmage (2,157) and rushing yards (1,641). "That's why I dropped the ball."

McAllister thought it was broken at first. X-rays on Sunday were negative and an MRI Monday showed a sprain, a stretched ligament where the shin bone meets the ankle.

"It's the same ankle he hurt two years ago," Haslett said. "It's probably a little worse than it was."

McAllister only missed one game with that injury, but played hurt for a long time. This injury has more inflammation and is more serious than the original injury, Haslett said. By Monday afternoon the ankle was so swollen and the skin on it so stretched it looked like a piece of wood, the coach said.

McAllister wore the boot and was on crutches when he left Saints camp on Monday. He also had an electric stimulator hooked to the boot and a system to pump ice water around the injury at night.

"He can't drive," Haslett said.

The Saints offense is built around McAllister, who was second in the NFC and fourth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage last season, and was the team's second-leading receiver with 69 receptions for 516 yards.

The team was down to just one running back after McAllister's injury on Sunday, after cutting Ki-Jana Carter prior to the game to bring up a defensive lineman because three linemen were out with injuries.

Aaron Stecker, a free agent from Tampa Bay, gained 41 yards on 15 carries against the *****, despite injuring an ankle and thigh in the game.

Carter was brought back on Monday.

The Saints will not rush McAllister to return, Haslett said.

"I think Deuce is smart enough, he went through this before, to know when he's ready to play," Haslett said. "I know he wants to play. He wants to play this week, but it's not going to happen."