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LEAF will start for Cowboys this week

IRVING, Texas (AP) _ Ryan Leaf is getting another chance as an NFL starter.

Dallas coach Dave Campo said Monday, a day after Leaf made his first appearance with the Cowboys, that Leaf would be the starting quarterback next weekend at Atlanta.

``We feel Ryan will give us a little spark, and he feels comfortable with the offense'' Campo said. ``This is definitely an evaluation process.''

Leaf was the No. 2 overall draft pick by San Diego in 1998, and was 4-14 as a starter the last three years. The Chargers cut him after last season and then he didn't make Tampa Bay's roster during training camp.

The Cowboys (2-5) signed Leaf on Oct. 12, and Sunday he will be their fourth starting quarterback this season. He follows rookie Quincy Carter, Anthony Wright and Clint Stoerner.

Carter and Wright are out with injuries. Stoerner threw interceptions on four straight drives, including two in the end zone, in the second half of Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss at the New York Giants.

Campo confirmed the anticipated move after team meetings Monday, when he had an opportunity to speak to both quarterbacks.

Campo said the move wasn't based on Stoerner's performance Sunday, but rather a desire to take a good look at Leaf. Carter, who has played just five quarters, is expected back from hamstring surgery in early December.

``We want to get an evaluation of where we are at quarterback,'' Campo said. ``If we come out of this year not knowing what we have, we've made a mistake.''

The Cowboys signed Leaf after Carter tore his left hamstring at Oakland on Oct. 7. Leaf had failed a physical because of a wrist injury when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones tried to sign him before the season opener, but there have been no indications that is still a problem.

``I feel like I can go in and play,'' Leaf said Monday before he knew he would start. ``I felt like I got a good grasp of the offense relatively well in my short time. I'll continue to do that.''

Leaf took over with 4:23 left in regulation against the Giants and the game was tied at 24, and was 4-of-8 for 85 yards. The Cowboys had blown a 24-7 halftime lead.

With Dallas pinned at its own 3, Leaf fumbled his first snap before he completed a 38-yard pass to Raghib Ismail and then moved the Cowboys into Giants territory. But just like his first overtime possession, the Cowboys had to punt from midfield after a sack and a penalty.

``He looked like a guy that had been sitting just waiting for his chance,'' tight end Jackie Harris said. ``Mentally, he was into the game enough to where he came in and we started making plays and moving the ball.''

Carter, named the starter during training camp when Tony Banks was suddenly cut, played all the way in a season-opening 10-6 loss to Tampa Bay. He then missed two games after injuring his thumb in practice and tore his hamstring in the first quarter of his return at Oakland.

Wright started three games, the last a 9-7 win over Washington on Oct. 15 when he aggravated a chronic ligament sprain in his right knee. He had season-ending surgery and Stoerner started the last two games.

``If I'm not the starter, I know I'm one play away from getting into the game,'' Stoerner said. ``I can't let Sunday's second half hinder how I'm going to perform and prepare for this week.''

Running back Emmitt Smith, who missed only the third game of his 12-year career because of a sprained right knee, expects to practice Wednesday.
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