Paul Domowitch: Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder welcomes help spotting injuries

Posted: August 02, 2012

BETHLEHEM – It was one of the worst moments of Rick Burkholder's career.

Second quarter of the Eagles' 2010 season opener at the Linc against the Green Bay Packers.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb got hit by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and suffered a concussion that would end up changing the careers of both Kolb and his backup, Michael Vick.

Six plays later, while Burkholder, the Eagles' trainer, was tending to Kolb, linebacker Stewart Bradley banged his head on the leg of teammate Ernie Sims. A woozy Bradley got up slowly, staggered, then fell down, before being helped back up.

On the Fox broadcast of the game, analyst Troy Aikman told his play-by-play partner, Joe Buck, that we had likely seen the last of Bradley for the day.

"I have to tell you, Joe," Aikman said, "it's hard to imagine him coming back into this game in light of what we just saw. With all of the attention being given head injuries, it's hard to imagine he'll be put back in."

But four plays later, a concussed Bradley did, in fact, return to the game.

While Aikman and Buck and millions of television viewers clearly saw what happened to Bradley, Burkholder and his staff never did. They were occupied with Kolb and had their backs to the field when Bradley collided with Sims and did his drunken-sailor imitation.

If Burkholder, who is one of the most respected trainers in the league, had seen it, Bradley never would have returned to the game.

"Bradley and I were as tight as any two people on earth at the time because I had spent so much time with him when he was rehabbing his [torn] ACL," Burkholder said. "The last thing I would want to do is put him out there hurt.

“I mean, I treated that guy like he was my son. I was devastated by it. But it was circumstances that allowed that to happen. Great changes have come about as a result of that, so I'm happy about that. Because of my screwup.

“I always feel that if you screw up once, it's OK. If you screw up twice, you're an idiot. The league is putting things in place to make our job easier and help prevent something like what happened with Stew from happening again."

Actually, it took one more nationally televised concussion embarrassment before the league finally got around to making some changes.

You may recall that infamous Thursday night game last December between Cleveland and Pittsburgh in which Browns quarterback Colt McCoy got cold-cocked by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. As with the Bradley incident, millions of people watching at home saw the vicious hit, but the Browns' medical and training staffs, like the Eagles' a year earlier, were busy working on other casualties and missed it.

Like Bradley, McCoy never was given a concussion test on the sideline and returned to the game. He would later be diagnosed with a concussion that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

Two weeks after that game, the league announced that, going forward, it would be putting certified athletic trainers up in the booth to monitor concussion-related injuries. During the playoffs, it added replay monitors on the sideline to help teams look at potential injuries, including concussions. Those replay monitors will be on the sidelines for every game this season.

"Concussions have been the motivating force behind this," Burkholder said. "But we'll use it for everything. There's a lot of times where, if you didn't see the injury, you don't really know [the severity of the injury].

“A really interesting one will be high ankle sprains. They're hard to diagnose. If you let those guys play on one, it makes for a little longer recovery. The one thing we always look for on film [with ankle sprains] is whether they got their foot turned out.

“So if you see that in a game, we can pull a guy out and probably hasten the process of recovery. Because sometimes, they can get through a game [with the injury], but feel miserable the next day and be out longer."

In the past, trainers and physicians didn't see replays of injuries until the morning after the game.

"As health-care providers, one of the things we can do is watch film," Burkholder said. "If you see me on game day, one of the things I do when a guy goes down is pull out a [index] card and write down the time on the clock. The next morning, as soon as I get to the office, I'll go see Doc [video director Mike Dougherty] and he'll pull me up clips. And if I don't see [the injury], I'll go down to Derek's [Boyko, director of media services] office. He DVRs the game and I'll watch it.

“The league figured, well, if you guys are having to wait until Monday, let's put it on the sideline for you. Because it will really help. I think it's fabulous. I think it's going to really help.''

Some would like to see the league put independent neurologists on the sideline to help diagnose concussions. The league has discussed it, but for now feels a trainer up in the booth and the replay monitors on the sideline are sufficient.

Many of the league's trainers were initially lukewarm to the idea of putting somebody up in the booth to help monitor possible concussions, mainly because the league's original plan was to use officials and other untrained personnel. Eventually, they agreed to use independent certified trainers.

The changes are a little late for Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Clint Sessions, whose career may be over after suffering three concussions last season, including two in the same game. Seven months later, he still is suffering postconcussion symptoms and hasn't been cleared to play.

Sessions suffered the last two concussions in a Nov. 20 game against Cleveland. He knew he was concussed after the first one, but said he hid it from the team's medical staff so that he could keep playing.

“I kind of knew it was pretty serious, but I just figured I wanted to win," he said. "It was a big game. We wanted to win the game. I wanted to contribute. I didn't want to leave the game. After the second one, I couldn't stand anymore, the trauma, so I left the game.

“Would I do that again? I probably would be a little smarter and not ignore it. But it would probably take a lot for me to come out of the game. It was one of those things I kind of shook off, like a lot of players do, I'm sure. But it was two back-to-back traumas. I guess, in that regard, I do regret that."

The monitors that will be used for reviewing injuries are identical to the ones the league's referees use to review plays on the field. In case you were wondering whether a team like, oh, I don't know, the Patriots, might try to use these monitors to gain a strategic advantage, they can't. According to the league's policy, only the team's head trainer and team docs will be permitted to use the monitors.

A league technician will constantly man the monitor. If a trainer or physician wants to review a play, he will notify the technician, who will communicate the request to the independent trainer up in the booth. The video will then be sent from the booth to the sideline monitor.

"I like all the changes they're making," Burkholder said. "They're making our job easier.

“There are some logistics to work out. You can't have players over there wanting to look at film. They can't be asking me to check and see if a guy stepped out of bounds. I think the fact that we can go in there and look will enable us to make better medical decisions."

Eagles sign receiver  

The Eagles signed wide receiver Andrew Brewer and waived receiver Ron Johnson with an injury settlement. Johnson had surgery Monday on his fractured and dislocated ankle. Brewer is 6-2, 215, and played two seasons for the UFL Omaha Nighthawks. The Omaha GM was Rick Mueller, now an Eagles players personnel executive. Brewer was a Northwestern teammate of Eagles quarterback Mike Kafka.

Contact Paul Domowitch at Follow him on Twitter @PDomo. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at

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