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(Reuters) - The struggling New Orleans Saints have lost key running back Darren Sproles for an indefinite period after he underwent surgery for a broken hand, the team said on Friday.
Sproles, who set a National Football League record with 2,696 all-purpose yards last season, has been a vital cog for the Saints (2-5), catching passes in addition to returning punts and kickoffs and ranking third among Saints' rushers.
Interim coach Joe Vitt said it was too early to say when the running back might be able to return.
"I don't know that," he told reporters in New Orleans. "We'll evaluate him next week."
Sproles is the second leading receiver for the Saints this season, catching 39 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He also has 117 yards running on 26 carries.
Vitt did not say how Sproles suffered the injury.
"I would think if you were an opera singer, a sore throat would be bad too," the coach said. "That's why he's not playing in the game. He hurt his hand and he's not playing in the game."
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Julian Linden