The 49ers collectively exhaled Tuesday after learning that a frightening hit that left a rookie linebacker unconscious and unmoving did not include any fractures to his spine.
Donavin Newsom, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Missouri, was diagnosed with a concussion after he and fellow rookie Chanceller James collided late in Tuesday’s practice while trying to defend a pass over the middle.
As James slowly got to his feet, Newsom remained on his back with his arms splayed outward. Teammates immediately called and signaled for the training staff. When Newsom showed no sign of movement initially, the emergency medical technicians who are on hand for every practice were called in. Newsom was placed on a back brace and then taken away in an ambulance to Stanford Hospital. He remained under observation at the hospital late Tuesday.
“I heard it more than saw it,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “Obviously, you never want to see that happen to anybody. Unfortunately we play a collision sport and things like that are really unpreventable – two aggressive guys going in to make a play.”
Both Newsom and James are part of a promising group of undrafted rookies who have made their marks with the 49ers this summer. They were working with the second-string unit – Newsom was lined up next to Reuben Foster at inside linebacker – when the collision occurred with about five minutes left in the session. Newsom had missed practice last week due to a neck issue but returned on Monday and practiced in full.
James, who played at Boise State and who already has developed a reputation as a big hitter at 49ers training camp, appeared distraught afterward. Veteran safety Eric Reid said he and some other veterans tried to comfort James.
“We told him to keep his head up, makes sure he checks on Donavin, keep praying about him but not to blame himself,” Reid said. “Because that stuff happens when you play this game.”
Added Reid before Newsom’s diagnosis was known: “I’m just praying that it’s a concussion and nothing more serious than that.”
Ambulances rarely have been needed during 49ers practices. The only other instance in recent memory involved fullback Michael Robinson who became severely dehydrated during a training camp practice in 2007 and had to be rushed to Stanford Hospital to be replenished intravenously.
Two years before that, guard Thomas Herrion collapsed in the locker room following a preseason game in Denver and later died. Coroners determined that Herrion, 23, suffered from heart disease. The team later established an annual award in Herrion’s name.
Newsom’s injury comes on the heels of a study published by the American Medical Association that looked at the brains of former football players and found that 110 of 111 had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition also known as CTE. Several 49ers in recent weeks have acknowledged that study, have said they are aware and concerned about the risks of their sport but choose to play it anyway.
“I did see his eyes open and stuff, so he wasn’t knocked out the whole time,” coach Kyle Shanahan said of Tuesday’s incident. “But he was sitting there resting, didn’t want to move. They were being very safe with it. We try our hardest to keep our space from him. I think it’s human nature for everyone to get around and get too close to him, which doesn’t help the situation.”
A few minutes earlier Shanahan had stopped practice and gathered the team around him to say he wasn’t happy with the session. “There was a lot of stuff I was planning to say about practice,” he said afterward. “And when that happens, it puts things in perspective for everyone. You just try to end it.”