A federal judge in St. Paul, Minn., yesterday blocked the NFL from suspending five players for violating the league's anti-doping policy by using a banned diuretic, clearing the way for them to play tomorrow.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said he needed more time to consider the case after hearing several hours of arguments from the league and the NFL Players Association.

Magnuson gave no indication when he would issue his written ruling, but did note there was no evidence of steroid use by the players.

"We're not talking about steroids in this case. Period," he said.

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams, of the Minnesota Vikings, and Charles Grant, Deuce McAllister and Will Smith, of the New Orleans Saints, were suspended this week for four games each. They tested positive for a banned diuretic in the dietary supplement StarCaps.

The union argued the NFL didn't properly inform players about what it knew about the product. The NFL's attorneys argued that that claim, and others, had been considered and rejected in a process set out by the league's collective bargaining agreement.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league welcomed the scrutiny Magnuson was giving the case.

Noteworthy

* New York Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis apologized for his arrest on charges of marijuana possession. While the team's discipline of Ellis didn't include a suspension or removal of his defensive captain status, the NFL still could suspend the Jets' longest-tenured player and sacks leader.

* The NFL suspended Tennessee reserve defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson for four games without pay for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances. He will miss the rest of the regular season.

* The Dallas Cowboys activated running back Alonzo Coleman off their practice squad after Marion Barber missed his fourth consecutive practice with a dislocated right pinkie toe.

* Redskins running back Clinton Portis took part in practice despite his neck, knee and rib injuries and is expected to play tomorrow against the Ravens.

* With Bills starting quarterback Trent Edwards doubtful for tomorrow's game against Miami because of a groin injury, backup J.P. Losman is likely to play. *