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Sanders will fill void left by Irvin

You have just lost the most flamboyant receiver in the league to a five-game suspension. What's a team to do? Maybe replace him with the most flamboyant cornerback in the league.

If his flirtations with offense seemed like vanity run amok last season, Deion Sanders' job training as a receiver is looking a bit more appealing since Michael Irvin has been sidelined by the commissioner for the first five games.

No one expects Prime Time to come close to Irvin's production _ Irvin is a five-time Pro Bowl player who had 111 receptions for 1,603 yards last season _ but Sanders' speed could be an important decoy on the Dallas offense.

And heaven knows, the Cowboys need all the help they can get. Seven starters have missed time in camp with injuries and the off-season saw the continued depletion of the Dallas defense via free agency.

"There's a lot of things you can do, but you can't replace a Michael Irvin," running backs coach Joe Brodsky said. "We've had our share of things to overcome, but we are coming to a saturation point where we can't keep plugging the dike."

The amusing aspect _ at least for the other 29 teams _ is Sanders may be needed more on defense than offense. With cornerback Kevin Smith suffering from an Achilles' tendon tear, Sanders could be moved back to defense full time if Smith has not recovered by the end of the preseason.

"We just don't have enough experienced people back there," coach Barry Switzer said.

Dallas will not get a free ride during the suspension. It must play at Chicago, at Buffalo and at Philadelphia along with home games against Indianapolis and the Giants. Four of those five had winning records in 1995.

That stretch is not going to keep the Cowboys out of the post-season, but it may cost them home-field advantage.

MINNESOTA HEAT: A sealed lawsuit brought by an unidentified woman against Dennis Green is the latest, and perhaps the most damaging, problem for the Vikings' coach.

Green has struggled to keep Minnesota in playoff contention and also has battled a string of harassment and abuse charges leveled at his team in recent years.

He did not help his cause when the Vikings' board of directors _ i.e. his bosses _ asked him what the lawsuit was all about. Green told them his attorney advised him not to talk about it.

GENIUS AT WORK: Marc Trestman was so dismayed when San Francisco hired Bill Walsh as a special assistant coach, the 49ers' offensive coordinator offered his resignation.

Team president Carmen Policy assured Trestman the 49ers were happy with his work and were only interested in taking advantage of Walsh's expertise. Trestman has warmed to the idea so much, he has invited Walsh to stay in the press box with him.

"It's a great opportunity to spend time with him," Trestman said. "He's arguably the best offensive coach who's ever coached the game. Having stepped away from the game for a few years, his insights are probably even more valuable because he's been able to put it all in perspective."

PAYING DUES: So you thought Marge Schott was the cheapest person in Cincinnati? The Reds' owner has nothing on Bengals management. When tackle Willie Anderson failed to show for the start of training camp, he became the 11th first-round pick in 13 years to stage a holdout in Cincinnati.

DARK SIDE OF MOON: Warren Moon said he has learned much about himself after the furor creat-ed after a fight with his wife, Felicia, last year. In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Vikings' quarterback said he is more attentive to his family's needs.

"There's pretty much nothing else people don't know about us. It's been kind of a freeing experience for both of us," Moon said. "I'm not concerned about living up to an image. I feel I can just live a more normal life."

With his wife claiming she was equally at fault for the episode, Moon was acquitted of assault charges in February.

HERE AND THERE: Detroit coach Wayne Fontes went from more than 250 pounds to 223 after his wife put an unflattering picture of him on the refrigerator. With eye surgery improving his vision from 20-70 to 20-10, former Heisman contender LeShon Johnson is hoping to revive his career as a kick returner in Phoenix. Boomer Esiason will double his $800,000 base salary if the Cardinals gain at least 1 more yard of total offense than their 4,866 yards of last season.

BYE NOW, PLAY LATER: When the Giants moved Coleman Rudolph from defensive end to linebacker, coach Dan Reeves was asked whether the switch was made to pay dividends next season.

"He's got to pick it up now," Reeves said. "I might not be here next season."

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.