Eric Heitmann’s neck injury caused by Singletary’s “nutcracker”

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.

58 responses to “Eric Heitmann’s neck injury caused by Singletary’s “nutcracker”

  1. Singletary was a great player. But not all great players make great coaches. At that level, who the hell needs to do a stupid drill like that? I dont think the coach knew what was he was doing.

  2. Stupid. This isn’t high school or college, you take care of your guys. If they don’t know how to hit and be physical by now, they never will. So you don’t do stupid drills like that, it shortens careers. NFL works with 80 players during a 3 week period in training camp. This isn’t the 1980’s when you had 120 players and most were camp bodies. Singletary has no clue and should take his coaching acumen to college….a low major not a BCS school.

  3. I’m assuming he meant crown of head to crown of head pushing as hard as possible against the other guy? It would be nice to have more information on the actual drill. But it it’s as I interperted it, how stupid could one be? Especially when multiple people complain about the safety of the drill. Not that it was too hard, or they just didn’t like it, but that they feared it for safety reasons…and they communicated those fears. Not only was Singletary a bad coach, but wow.

  4. With a 6 month recovery time, and the injury supposedly happening in August 2010, what geniuses decided that the best time for surgery would be May of 2011?
    I understand the “wait and see how it heals” approach, but you can’t tell me that this moron didn’t know he still had pain in December!! Easy money sitting on IR for a 2nd straight year…

  5. Its football, its a physical sport. Nutcracker drill makes players tougher. It is a perfectly acceptable drill. We did this all the time in HIGHSCHOOL football practices, I didnt see any problems with it then and I dont see any wrongdoing by Singletary.

  6. I believe the Steelers and Ravens and several other NFL teams run a form of the same drill in their camps every year,not to mention all the College teams that do it all the time .
    I also remember reading that the drill was toned down in last years camp over what it was in Sing’s first TC sessions the year before but Heitmann still was injured in the easy version of the drill,maybe he just had a weak disk in his neck from banging heads for his entire career with other 300 pound guys on the defense and it finally gave out on him ?

    Besides all that Heitmann had two broken legs in his career,one of them in a practice in Augest 2010,that was supposed to take until October 2010 before he could possibly play again,so he was not healthy in 2010 anyway. Why not blame Sing for those injuries too ??? lol !

    And who knows,being an NFL O lineman is a tough business and who is to say Heitmann would not have injured the neck in the same manner in any game during the season,when on every play he had to run into another 300 pound D lineman ? It’s a tough job and injury is part of what you sign up for.

    If you want to blame Sing for the neck injury then I think you are stretching the facts a bit,just to give a parting shot to a fine man who was not a great head coach ! (but will be a fine LBers coach for Minn. !)

    Just be happy if you are a 49ers fan that we now have a fine HC in JHarbaugh ,and be happy that the future of the team looks very bright,and leave Sing alone, it wasn’t his fault in any way that Heitmann hurt his neck,it’s just football !

  7. Sing should donate his brain to science after his death for further study. The results may prove beneficial to other morons trying to navigate their way through life.

  8. “We used to call that one ‘the Stinger’. They don’t let you do that no more…”

  9. Isn’t line a linemans job? Push someone out of the way or stop someone from pushing them?

  10. The league needs to do more to ensure that players are safe on the practice field

    Sounds like the “big government” approach to football.

    I agree they should have a safe work environment, but the teams should be capable of policing that.

  11. 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
    I admit that I’m not familiar with the exact nature of the drill, however, it sounds like it is precisely what happens during every NFL play. It sounds like BS to me. If the injury happened over a year ago, why hasn’t it been addressed? Why not mention it then? Why practice the next day if the injury was bad enough that he would miss 2 entire seasons?

    Every year, players get injured in training camp. Some during weight training, some pull hamstrings/groins during sprints, some tear ACL/MCL making cuts. Are all those integral facets of NFL practice/training camp now under scrutiny because they are unsafe? No. This sounds like somebody (or a bunch of somebodys) are overreacting to a nonissue.

  12. I hated that drill with all my heart.

    Not because its too hard for me, but because its plain useless in terms of practice.

    And NO coach should run that drill, not in HS, not in college and certainly not in the pros, where injuries cost you millions of dollars

  13. Very sorry he got hurt, but this is football not the golf. People reporting garbage like this is going to kill the game. Wow this country is turning into a bunch of sallys, first we teach our kids there are no winners or losers in sports everyone gets a trophy, now they try to take the contact out of football with all these rules. What’s next.

    Improve the equipment don’t change the game!!!

  14. Singletary is a certifiable nut, and Heitann looks like a dumb Cracker, so you can see where the terminology arose.

  15. Cry me a river you freaking sissys. High school football for me about 12 years ago kicked my butt and then I went to Marine Corps boot camp in 2004 and had it worse there! You want your nuts cracked, get killed by a ‘Don’t give a sh**’ DI.

  16. So the retired players are whining that they don’t get enough of a pension, then one of them goes out and has his players do a ridiculous drill that injures current players? And here I always thought Singletary was smart as a player.

  17. i never feel sorry for any player that gets injured, when you put the pads and helmet on, you know the risk. Vikesfan you are right. this league has gotten so soft, because offense sells tickets. You want to see big hits, watch college ball. I knew when i saw a defensive end who was getting blocked, and he tried to reach to knock the ball from the quarterbacks hand, his hand grazes the helmet of the QB….. fifteen yard penalty. Are you kidding? its so sad. i like watching old games on NFL network.

  18. @steelerspiratesbruins

    In high school they were not prime athletes weighing more than 300 lbs and moving very fast with a lot of power. Athletes get paid to much money to do something that will get them hurt in a practice. There are other things to do to get ready to play football.

  19. Anyone who has played football at any level knows a few things about the game:

    It’s a violent sport
    Played by men who enjoy violence
    People can and do get hurt, some seriously
    Practice violence is intended to simulate game violence, and it still falls short

    If exercising maximum, legal violence between the sidelines, or on a practice field is a problem, find a new sport.

    Check with Ray Lewis, Lamar Woodley or James Harrision…It’s FOOTBALL!!

  20. Actually, Mike Singletary might go down in history as the “Matt Millen of coaching”. Both were exceptional football players, but neither was in any way qualified for the job they took after football, even though it was IN football.

    As far as a lawsuit, won’t happen…UNLESS Heitmann’s career is over, as a result. Players get hurt during practice all the time, simply because football, both in games and in practice, is inherently dangerous. The fact that a specific drill has caused several injuries might be cause for examination, but it is hardly grounds for a lawsuit, unless it can be proven that A) the coaching staff was factually aware of the higher-than-normal potential for injury from the specific drill, and B) the injured player can prove that he lost MONEY as a result of being required to perform this proven, dangerous drill, and was injured as a result of it.

    I’m sure Heitmann is unhappy about this, but unless he is released without an “injury settlement”, which is basically a payoff from the team in return for his agreement not to seek damages, he’s pretty much dust bunnies. Otherwise, he has surgery, heals up, gets paid while he does, and life goes on.

    But people will remember Singletary’s involvement in this, and it’s a nasty strike to his hopes for another head coaching job, for sure.

    Of course, there’s always the Bears…

  21. This drill is done in pretty much every high school football team practice. As well as the Alabama drill, crazy 8s, and one-on-one’s. It’s football.

  22. College ball is getting more and more attractive. These kids play their hearts out because they want to. Lombardi would be rolling if he heard what his game has turned into.

  23. To all of u yellin at singletary, football can be a violent contact sport, actually it IS the sport.

    The REAL PROBLEM here is not singletary’s practice drills, coachs not listening to whining players, or hard practice drills. The problem is since the mid 80’s early 90’s, the definition of the word “tackle” has been greatly manipulated. Head to head contact is/should never be tolerated in the game if possible. I played safety in Jr. High, high school. I was warned a few times by officals then that leading with head is spearing and not a legal hit.

    The problem with the NFL these days is most tackles are done this way. Proper tackling technique is not taught this way in pee wee or jr high & should not be allowed in NFL at all and should definetely be corrected in any type of practice setting. But you now have the James Harrisons & Bob Sanders of the NFL in which this is the only way they tackle and most other players have followed suit cause it creates a harder collison and more likely a tackle for opposing player. Any smart player would NEVER tackle this way to begin with but go the Antoine Winfield route of always getting lower than your opponent and wrapping up with your arms then your neck & head are never in jeopardy in the tackling process.

    This is a long overdue policy enforcement issue for the NFL, but i believe if each player used proper technique from pee wee to NFL level, it would not be a problem anyway. No one has ever taught the human missle tackle drill in football i am sure.

  24. Of course it’s football and and there are injuries because of the nature of the sport. Having said that, this was Mike Dingleberry showing who’s boss and how tough he can be. I’m surprised he didn’t make his players wear leather helmets with no face guard….that’s the way Iron Mike remembers the way he played.

    Not only did Heitmann suffer what could be a career ending injury with this stupid caveman drill, but Patrick Willis also suffered a leg injury as I recall participating in the drill.

    Think it makes sense to lose one of the best players in the NFL just to prove how tough you can be?

    I feel sorry for the Vikings having this fool “coach” them. Hope he never gets another head coaching job at any level of foootball.

  25. @paulbrownsrevenge says: Jun 30, 2011 5:43 PM

    I think you forgot to add “you darn kids get off my lawn,” and “when’s Matlock on?”

  26. Of course it’s football and and there are injuries because of the nature of the sport. Having said that, this was Mike Dingleberry showing who’s boss and how tough he can be. I’m surprised he didn’t make his players wear leather helmets with no face guard….that’s the way Iron Mike remembers the way he played
    oh, u where there? u know exactly what happend and how it went down? i doubt it, wait for all the hard facts, since when was ANY football player taught to lead with their head?!

  27. “I mean listen, we talkin bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. We talkin bout practice. Not a game, not a, not a, not the game that I go out there and die for, and play every game like its my last. Not the game. We talkin’ bout practice, man. I mean how silly is that?”

  28. hobartbaker says:
    Jun 30, 2011 5:31 PM
    “Singletary is a certifiable nut, and Heitann looks like a dumb Cracker, so you can see where the terminology arose.”

    Come on PFT. Im in no way the PC police and I know ‘hobartbaker’ considers himself the designated PFT comedian, but if you are going to let racial crap slide then let it ALL slide. The ‘cracker’ reference isnt about effing saltines…

  29. What’s safe for a 120lb high school player to do isn’t always safe for a 325 lb adult athlete to do.

    The force an NFL athlete generates between muscle and sheer size is significantly higher than that generated by a high school or even college athlete.

    And a neck is only so strong, no matter how muscular someone is.

  30. Sweet. We shouldn’t need to worry about the Viking’s starting linebackers hitting the field this season. Singletary will have Greenway and Henderson hurt as soon as training camp begins after the labor settlement. Sucks that they wasted the franchise tag on Greenway over Rice anyways – now Sidney is searching for greener pastures via free agency and Chad could be hurt before the first preseason game. Leber may be staying away because he thinks Singletary is off his rocker as well.

  31. I love hard-hitting football, but this drill is just a good way to cause neck injuries. And since it doesn’t replicate anything done on the field during games, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. You can achieve the same goal using variations where players are going at each other from blocking stances rather than pushing with their heads. When you’re dealing with starting pro linemen signed to multi-million-dollar contracts, it’s a ridiculous and unnecessary risk to your team’s major financial assets.

  32. I loved watching Mike play back in the days, but he was a real tool of a head coach. Position coach to bring some fire to a team when needed is fine, but he’s got no business being the head coach of even a high school team.

  33. There are a lot of stupid high school coaches that run this drill, and cause hundreds of needless concussions and neck injuries. Singletary should consider coaching at that level.

    It’s well-known that the kickoff is the most dangerous play in football; why run a similar drill that is likely to cause injuries and serves no instructional purpose? You might as well strap players onto JUGS machines and hurl them together at 30mph.

  34. azcardinal32 says:Jun 30, 2011 5:04 PM

    Its football, its a physical sport. Nutcracker drill makes players tougher. It is a perfectly acceptable drill. We did this all the time in HIGHSCHOOL football practices, I didnt see any problems with it then and I dont see any wrongdoing by Singletary.

    lol. Big difference between a bunch of high school kids, most of whom are 160 to 180 and slow as molasses and professional football players who are bigger and stronger in virtually every way but, unfortunately, don’t have have stronger disks or bones…

  35. This has nothing to do with regulating contact in practice. Guys can get hurt jumping for an overthrown pass and landing awkwardly. Hell, players get injured during celebrations occasionally.

    This is indicative of how Singletary ran the team. Coaches that win don’t burn their players out in July and August. Walsh rarely made the boys pad up during practice after training camp and when he did it was for conditioning, not killing each other.

    Singletary flat out didn’t know sh@t about X’s & O’s, so he over compensated for it on the practice field and it showed on game day. It is that simple.

  36. How stupid is this guy . Been hit way too many times himself! What an idiotic drill. So tired of people on this site with the same old pretty soon football will be flag nonsense . Nothing about football should include head to head contact.

  37. Hey “hobartbaker” … if you are going to make stupid statements like “Heitmann looks like a DUMB craker” are least try to be a little informed. In addition to his productive NFL career, he graduated from Stanford, was a first team All American college player and is a well regarded classical pianist. Let’s see your resume before you call him dumb.

  38. To all the morons saying, “We did this in junior high” or some variant:

    a) This is not Jr High. These guys are 300 pounds plus. BIIIIIG difference.

    b) These are real athletes, not weenie little kids like 99.9% of anyone on this board probably were in school.

    c) IT’S STILL STUPID. Haven’t you been following the news? Head injuries are not necessary in football, and should be a avoided. Coaches now know this drill is dangerous…SO STOP. The last thing any team needs is to lose a player in practice!


  39. Singeltary did nothing that the Steelers and Ravens and many other NFL teams do every camp. Some people just want to hate on Mike Singletary for their own personal reasons. He was a poor HC and he got fired ,but the nutcracker drill (especially the toned down veersion of the drill that Heitmann was injued performing) was nothing wrong to put in your practices,period,end of discussion (unless you are a hater and want to kick a fine man while he is down).

  40. and Bearsnoah:
    The nutcracker drill is not supposed to have head to head contact in it,so you show your total ignorance in saying that.
    And if Heitmann had done the drill correctly he would not have had any more chance of hurting his neck as he would during any game or any practice.
    And those who say it’s alright for High School kids to do it because they don’t have to go up against 300 pounders,well,the 150 pounders against the 150 pounders is exactly the same as the 300 pounders against the 300 pounders.
    And if they have good tecnique they will not get hurt.

  41. @TIM Simpletary chose David Carr and Alex Smith over Shaun Hill. He’s going to get hate over every decision because of that. It’s not fair but it’s the truth.

  42. …. So this guy is leaching the 49ers payroll for a second year? Mind you, he had NO OFFSEASON DRILLS THIS YEAR.

    If he was a committed player, he would have had the surgery before and tried to return for this season. He’s no worse than the guy living on disability but playing golf every day.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!