Utah Blaze star quarterback Joe Germaine missed practice on Tuesday morning, the team's first since winning its second straight game on Saturday night. He had a good excuse, though.

Germaine was at home in Arizona with his wife, Natalie, who gave birth to the couple's second son over the weekend. With mother and the baby named Crew doing fine, Germaine was back at practice on Wednesday as the 2-9 Blaze prepare for a big game Saturday at division-leading San Jose.

Blaze backup quarterback Jason Gesser, meanwhile, had the rare opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense in Germaine's absence.

"(Gesser) was all upset because he didn't think the guys were running the routes as hard for him as they do for Joe," said Blaze coach Danny White. "He was mad because guys weren't getting open, but that's a typical Tuesday practice. Guys are kind of lethargic and the energy is down a bit, but that's normal for a Tuesday. Too bad it came on Jason's big day."

White has been pleased with the effort Gesser has given this year despite the fact that he's been relegated to holding for kicks and mop-up QB duty.

"My job is to keep working hard to be ready," said Gesser, who has thrown just nine passes this season, compared to 428 for Germaine. "I know the second you lose focus and stop working hard they will bring someone else in to replace you. I just work and prepare like I'm going to be a starter every week and, God willing, I'll get my chance to be a starter sometime."

That doesn't mean Gesser wishes any harm to Germaine, of course. But with Germaine under contract with the Blaze for four more seasons after this one, Gesser knows he may have to seek another opportunity as a free agent during the offseason if he wants to find a starting role in the AFL.

Even though he doesn't see much action with the Blaze offense, Gesser has still become a Blaze fan favorite. That's because he tries to get the crowd involved and runs over to give high fives to fans on the front rows after every extra point and field goal.

"I have fun. I enjoy the arena game and I enjoy our fans," Gesser said. "We have great fans. I try to make sure they are having a good time and I especially like to talk to those guys on the front row because they've been there for all three years I've been here and they pay a lot of money to come watch us. I want them to have fun."

UTE RECURITS: A pair of ex-University of Utah players practiced with the Blaze on Tuesday under two-day contracts, as White just wanted to get a look at them for future reference. Receiver Brian Hernandez and linebacker Spencer Toone made a good first impression on the veteran AFL coach.

"They are both good-looking players," White said.

PLAYOFF CHASE: While it's hard to believe considering they had nine straight losses to open the season, the Blaze are right in the thick of the playoff chance in the AFL's American Conference. Six of the eight teams in the conference will qualify for the playoffs and the Grand Rapids Rampage are currently in sixth place with a 3-7 record. That's just one more win than Utah. Three other teams — Los Angeles, Colorado and Arizona — have only four wins.

The Blaze can help their own cause immensely since they still have games remaining against L.A., Arizona and Grand Rapids.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com