The neck injury that will keep 49ers center Eric Heitmann off the field for the entire 2011 season stems from a training camp drill that former 49ers coach Mike Singletary insisted was an integral part of training camp — despite concerns from players that it was dangerous.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Heitmann’s injury was suffered during last summer’s training camp on Singletary’s “nutcracker” drill, in which two players go head to head and try to push each other back.
Several players suffered injuries doing the nutcracker in the 49ers’ 2009 training camp, leading to questions about whether Singletary should retire the drill for the safety of his players. But Singletary insisted during training camp in 2010 that he wasn’t going to give the nutcracker up.
When asked today about Heitmann’s injury, Singletary told CSNBayArea, “I have no response to that. I don’t really know what Eric’s prior situation was, so I’m not going to respond to that.”
Heitmann tried to practice through the neck injury, but he suffered a broken leg the next day, causing him to miss the entire 2010 season.
The fact that Heitmann was on the practice field the day after suffering that neck injury is alarming, as is the fact that Singletary insisted on doing the nutcracker despite concerns about its safety. The NFL needs to do more than just crack down on helmet-to-helmet hits on Sundays. The league needs to do more to ensure that players are safe on the practice field as well.