Nickerson: IR was wrong call

Published Dec. 18, 1998|Updated Sept. 14, 2005

Had the Bucs not placed Hardy Nickerson on injured reserve, the Pro Bowl middle linebacker says he could have returned to the lineup in time for the playoffs.

Nickerson, 33, said he no longer has the virus that caused pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. Last week, he began some light workouts on the treadmill and he expects to resume lifting weights and running soon.

When Nickerson was released from the hospital Nov. 23, one day after a 28-24 loss to Detroit, the Bucs were 4-7 and reaching the playoffs seemed unlikely.

Still, Nickerson disagreed with coach Tony Dungy's decision to place him on injured reserve just one day after he was released from St. Joseph's Hospital.

"That was crushing to me, because I thought I still had a chance to get back and contribute," Nickerson said.

"I thought I would have to rest for four weeks, and after that, I could start getting ready. I planned to rest, condition a week and possibly play some in the last game of the regular season and be ready for the playoffs. But I got placed on injured reserve.

"As it turns out, I will be ready. I'm fine now."

The Bucs will earn the final NFC wild-card spot if they win their last two games and the Arizona Cardinals lose one of their last two.

If they make the playoffs, however, it will be without Nickerson. When a player is placed on injured reserve, he is out for the rest of the season, enabling the team to use the roster spot for another player. The Bucs used the spot left by Nickerson to sign free-agent linebacker Don Davis, who plays exclusively on special teams and has two tackles.

"It wasn't an easy decision," Dungy said. "We talked about it for a long time, and I talked about it with (Nickerson). And that was the logical thing to do."

The Bucs have been more patient with other injured players. Cornerback Anthony Parker, for example, needed six weeks to recover from a pulled hamstring but was not placed on IR.

Nickerson acknowledges the Bucs probably erred on the side of caution because of the serious nature of his illness.

"There's no way I wanted to go on injured reserve," Nickerson said. " Because every injury I've had, my body just responds. It just responds well to rest and treatment. And I thought that I'd be ready."

Dungy said the Bucs couldn't afford to carry just five linebackers on the roster for the remaining six games. And there was no guarantee Nickerson would be well enough to play by the post-season.

"The best-case scenario for him, if everything went well and we made it in, if he went fast, he'd be able to run and be able to play maybe for the second playoff game," Dungy said. "We just really didn't think we could go a man short for five or six weeks."

The Bucs placed Nickerson on the non-football-related injury list, meaning they did not have to pay his remaining salary. But Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer agreed to compensate Nickerson for his remaining $555,000 in lost game checks.

The good news is that Nickerson has responded well to treatment and should have no residual effects from the pericarditis.

"I feel good. From the looks of things, the virus I had is gone," Nickerson said. "There was no inflammation evident from the blood test I gave. So I'm pretty much back to normal.

"We'll see how it goes. For now, it's light exercise. I guess the next time I go see a doctor, he'll re-evaluate me. At that point, I don't see any reason why I couldn't start running and lifting."

Naturally, Nickerson is rooting for his teammates to reach the playoffs. But he winces at the thought of not being in the huddle with them in the post-season.

"There's a pretty good chance they'll be in Dallas in the playoffs and I'll be at home watching the game on TV," Nickerson said.

Added Dungy, "If that situation does materialize, it'll be tough on him."

INJURIES: WR Reidel Anthony did not practice Thursday because of a shoulder sprain. The Bucs could make him inactive Saturday or decide to have a fifth receiver in uniform against Washington. WR Karl Williams will play against the Redskins but still has bruised ribs.

Because Anthony and Williams are injured, rookie Jacquez Green will handle kickoff and punt return duties. Green is second in the NFL with a 15.3-yard punt-return average.

LG Jorge Diaz (fractured foot) will not play, Dungy said.