The most serious injury sustained during the first five days of the 49ers’ training camp undoubtedly is the torn ACL and patellar tendon suffered by ILB Scott McKillop, a vital special-teams player who is likely to miss the entire 2010 season.
Also troubling, however, has been a rash of concussions.
There probably is no connection among the recent head injuries to LG David Baas, TE Delanie Walker and OLB Travis LaBoy. It’s always tempting to use such occurrences as evidence that a camp is too physical, but really, Mike Singletary’s practices aren’t much different than other coaches’. It’s likely just a string of bad luck, though it demonstrates the NFL’s changing approach to concussions.
LaBoy was hurt toward the end of today’s practice at Cal State Monterey Bay, so it’s hard to gauge the severity. Baas and Walker, on the other hand, seem to be doing fine. Walker, in fact, lined up wide in a 9-on-9 drill today and, with no helmet or pads, pretended to run pass routes.
I asked Singletary after practice how mild concussions would have been handled back when he played for the Bears.
“I don’t know,” he said. “To be honest, with David Baas having a mild concussion, to me it’s just really interesting right now, because when you start talking about the concussions and things like that, there’s just so much information now and it’s such a new thing that I think that they’re still trying to discover what the heck is a concussion. I just think back right now, when we were playing you would just go out there and play and then they would put some smelling salt in front of you, and you would just smell that and go back out there and play if you can walk. You hold up two fingers and you say two and a half and you’re close enough, let’s go. That’s pretty much how it was.”
Yes, times have changed, certainly for the better.
The New York Times recently reported that the NFL is trying to increase awareness of concussions by sending a strongly worded poster to be hung in the locker rooms of the 32 teams. The poster makes it clear that a concussion is a brain injury, offers a long list of symptoms and encourages players to report them to a team trainer or physician.
The new culture makes it more likely that players like Baas, Walker and LaBoy will miss practice time and games if they suffer concussions. It also increases their chances of a long career and a happy post-football life.
The most amazing words that came from Singletary? The guy who reportedly cracked 16 helmets at Baylor and pummeled NFL running backs for 12 seasons claims never to have suffered a head injury.
“I never had a concussion,” he said. “So I have been very fortunate. I’ve been very blessed.”