Heat wave has all NFL teams concerned

Updated: July 30, 2006, 8:28 PM ET
Associated Press

As a coach, Marv Levy always ran relatively easy training camps. He's doing the same as Buffalo's new general manager, although that didn't keep the Bills from having the first player of the NFL preseason to be hospitalized for heat-related problems.

That was John McCargo, Buffalo's second pick in the first round and the 26th overall choice last April. The 295-pound defensive tackle, was taken Saturday to a hospital in the Rochester, N.Y., area, though he was back at a light practice on Sunday.

"He just overextended himself," said his agent, Hadley Engelhard.

"Overextend" is a word that many NFL teams have been trying to avoid since the death of Minnesota offensive tackle Korey Stringer five years ago from heat stroke.

The concerns may be especially important right now, when most of the country is engulfed by a heat wave that is blamed for as many as 141 deaths in California. High temperatures and humidity in the East and Midwest are expected to continue well into next week.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday that no new guidelines had been sent to teams before camps this season, but that those strengthened after Stringer's death in 2001 were still in force. They ensure that players be monitored regularly by medical personnel and that water and other drinks to help avoid dehydration are at the practice facilities.

The Tennessee Titans opted for caution Sunday by letting defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth leave practice early with heat-related dizziness. With humidity and the temperature making it feel like 105 degrees, the Titans hit the field in full pads for the first time in training camp Sunday afternoon.

Haynesworth was treated inside the Titans' locker room at Austin Peay State University and did not return.

"Albert went real hard early in practice and got dizzy," coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're not going to take any risks there, so we took him in to cool him off."

Stringer's death also led to a gradual change in policy by coaches, including cutting down on two-a-day practices in the heat. Many coaches now alternate sessions -- two on one day, then one the next. And more teams schedule practice at night, when it's cooler.

"It was different in the old days," says the 80-year-old Levy, the Hall of Famer who took over as Buffalo's general manager this year, nine years after retiring as the Bills' coach. "I'll even go back in my experience to Division III. Then if you had a drink of water during practice you were a sissy: 'You shouldn't drink water. Come on. Get tough.' We might think it's not that demanding to go twice a day, but it's not easy. These guys are big, talented. They're in shape. We've just to get them ready for the season."

The existence of team workouts and minicamps throughout the offseason also has contributed to fewer two-a-days.

"Guys would come to camp to get in shape sometimes in those days," said Bills coach Dick Jauron, an NFL safety from 1973-80. "It was different, very different. There are better medical insights and training insights now than there were then."

New coaches often work teams harder just to prove themselves.

The New York Jets, for example, practiced twice on Friday, then had only one session on Saturday -- in 95-degree heat.

But what was scheduled to be a session of a little over two hours turned into three hours because Eric Mangini -- at 35, less than half Levy's age -- was dissatisfied with the practice. He kept having the offense rerun plays and twice had the teams run laps around the field -- something more common to high school coaches than those in the NFL.

"Yesterday I didn't think was very good. It was the hottest day that we've had in four years, according to our trainers. I think that it showed," Mangini said Sunday. "The heat is a good thing. I hope we get a lot of heat because as I've told the players we have got to learn to play in all the different elements."

Other coaches are well aware of the problems heat can cause -- especially those in hot climates.

"We give a test to all the guys that is muscle mass, body fat and hydration," Miami Dolphin's coach Nick Saban said. "Almost 100 percent of the time when a guy has high body fat he has low hydration. That's not good for player safety in the climate we have to work in. We have structured programs to bring them down."

Nothing works perfectly in any sport.

Last summer, Thomas Herrion, a lineman with San Francisco, collapsed and died after an exhibition game in Denver, a contest played in 60-degree temperatures. An autopsy determined that Herrion died of heart disease, not of any heat-related problem.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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