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Heat-related problems crop up again at some NFL training camps

Posted: Thursday, July 31, 2003

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. The sun beat down through high, wispy clouds and a bluish-gray haze Wednesday. It was 81 and climbing just another typical summer morning in Jacksonville.

This hasn't been a normal training camp for the Jaguars, however. Two 300-pound defensive linemen, Larry Smith and John Henderson, succumbed to the heat and were taken to the hospital over the first four days of practice.

Smith returned to the field Wednesday and Henderson was fine, but their hospitalizations were another reminder of the dangers of playing football in the heat common during training camp. It's a lesson the NFL has been hammering home, especially since the heat-related death of Vikings lineman Korey Stringer two summers ago.

''The truth is, everybody gets a little dizzy sometimes,'' said Panthers offensive tackle Todd Steussie, a former teammate and close friend of Stringer. ''And sometimes it's hard to determine on your own if you should be out there or not.''

The Jaguars shipped in portable lights for the practice field and made plans to reschedule some of their workouts for nighttime, starting Thursday. Owner Wayne Weaver is also considering buying a bubble, so the team can escape the heat and frequent thunderstorms that buffet the region this time of year.

Jacksonville isn't alone in making concessions to the weather.

Looking for answers for the team's recent late-season swoons, the New Orleans Saints built a $15 million practice facility with indoor fields to get their players out of the intense heat during camp.

''All the teams up north have indoor facilities,'' Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ''What's the difference between the cold and it being 110 degrees?''

Redskins linebacker Kevin Mitchell was hospitalized briefly Tuesday after suffering cramps during a humid morning practice. He was back on the field Wednesday, but not in pads.

Well into their first week of camp, the Dolphins haven't had anyone go down with heat problems.

''It's a credit to how you're showing up,'' coach Dave Wannstedt said. ''Are you showing up ready and in shape? I think that has a lot to do with it. Our guys came in in good shape. And we're weighing them every day and getting them plenty of fluids and doing everything we need to do, like we've done in the past.''

The Cowboys moved indoors last year when they relocated their training camp to San Antonio. Bill Parcells sprinkles in a few outdoor practices at a nearby high school.

''Being outside is over-hyped right now,'' Dallas safety Darren Woodson said. ''The entire offseason, we've been doing conditioning outside.''

Meanwhile, the Panthers, Eagles and Bears are participating in a study designed to learn about ways to help prevent heat exhaustion in players.

Every day following practice, the Panthers pick about 15 players at random and wrap a plastic bag around their hand to collect their sweat. The bags are designed to study a player's sweat content and sodium loss.

Most Jacksonville players agree Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio's first training camp has been no more taxing than those run by Tom Coughlin the first eight seasons. In fact, they say it has been less physical. Del Rio schedules two water breaks per practice, along with a number of ''teaching sessions'' during which the physical activity is scaled back and players can catch their breath.

''There's no reason for anyone to complain about our schedule,'' quarterback Mark Brunell said. ''Especially for guys who've been around here for a while.''

In their history, the Jaguars never had to send a player to the hospital because of heat-related problems during training camp.

Two guys going down in the first week of Del Rio's tenure has raised concern among some that things in Jacksonville have changed for the worse.

''If people think I'm Bear Bryant out here running the Junction Boys, they can say that,'' Del Rio said. ''But it's not that type of effort.''

Henderson, a 328-pound defensive tackle, said he got a little dizzy and was short of breath Tuesday.

''I tried to cool myself down, so I just laid there to relax my body. It's just something that happened,'' he said.

Seeing a player down, the Jaguars training staff pounced, stripping Henderson of his jersey and cooling him down with ice and sponges. It was the immediate response the NFL preaches to coaches and trainers, and in this case, it worked.

Before Stringer's death, Henderson probably would have just been taken into a training room and allowed to cool down, Del Rio said.

''But we're going to take every step to make sure we don't put the player in jeopardy,'' he said. ''That's why you have the dramatic event.''

Other than moving some of the practices to nighttime, Del Rio said he wasn't planning any changes.

''We went back, we counted every rep, we made sure the reps weren't out of line,'' he said. ''Larry Smith had 16 reps before he went down the other day. It was only about 40 minutes into practice. It's pretty difficult to do much less than that and get ready for an NFL season.''

Gene Upshaw, head of the players union, conceded it was disturbing to see two players go down. But he is satisfied with the guidelines set by the NFL.

''I don't know what else we can do at this point from our end,'' he said. ''We've notified everyone about it, and we know it's trainers and doctors who have to make medical decisions, not coaches.''



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