All it took for head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder to make a decision was to see a lack of orientation in Chris Clemons' eyes. The Eagles' defensive end, woozy from the heat at training camp, wasn't responding to simple tasks, so Burkholder called 911 to get Clemons the right kind of immediate attention.
"I think that with any of the heat/dehydration stuff, usually they cramp first and then at the first sign of cramping we send them in," said Burkholder. "A guy will pull up and we'll put him on a cart and take him in. I'm not in the business of messing around trying to force a guy to finish. In Chris's case he came over and just dropped to one knee. He never cramped or anything like that. He just dropped to one knee and he just didn't look right, I said get him in and start an IV, and when I got inside with him he just still wasn't responding to my questions and that's when I said call 911 and we'll get him out of here."
From there, the story took on all kinds of wild versions, but the facts are that Clemons remained conscious throughout his visit to Lehigh Valley Hospital and then was released hours later and is now back with the team at training camp. It is likely to be a couple of days before Clemons returns to the field, but that isn't the big story.
The big story is that the athletic training staff did the right thing, took care of the player, and continues to be regarded as one of the best in the league. And as Burkholder explained late Tuesday afternoon, after Clemons was out of the woods, the process is amazingly thorough and effective.
"I have a team of people in this training camp that are athletic trainers that do nothing but dehydration research," said Burkholder. "We study these guys, we draw blood on them, we collect urine, we collect sweat, we try and match up drinks with their body type and how they give off electrolytes and all kinds stuff. And you know Chris is a new player to us, so we're not matched up with him yet.
"Then on top of that we had three or four defensive linemen out this morning at the last minute, and so the numbers game got to him and it caught up to him. He's not one of the guys that we had one of the little sensors in that we talk about. We had it in two defensive linemen this morning, both their body temperatures went up higher than what we're used to. That's because they had to take so many reps this morning. Chris will be in that group now.""
It is a busy time for Burkholder and his staff. Players come off the field hobbling every day in training camp. The athletic training staff's job is to provide the proper care immediately, get the players right, and then give them the OK to return to the field. In some cases, like Clemons' "pretty normal dehydration event," the Eagles' athletic training has a good deal of control on how the player is treated.
In the case of Victor Abiamiri, who suffered a fractured wrist on Sunday and had two screws inserted in a surgical procedure on Tuesday, there is only so much Burkholder can do.
A higher helping hand is what Abiamiri needs now to get back on the field.
"Right now we are going to let the wrist heal and he's going to sling it," said Burkholder. "We're going to do some modalities inside that, help the healing process and then we'll start moving him. He'll start getting his range of motion whenever the doctor says it's OK and then we'll go from there."
What do the setbacks mean for the defensive end position, one that the Eagles felt so good about before Abiamiri went down and before rookie Bryan Smith suffered a hamstring pull? It means that, as usual, one injury can change an entire perspective. Without Abiamiri -- who may or may not land on Injured Reserve in the weeks to come -- the Eagles are missing a stout, 270-pound player who made excellent progress from his rookie season to now. The Eagles will miss him. He was/is expected to be part of the rotation at left end along with Clemons and Juqua Parker. Now, well, the Eagles hope Smith can get back on the field in the days ahead and show that he is ready to contribute as a rookie. They hope that Clemons, who should not experience any lasting problems after Tuesday's bout with dehydration and heat illness, continues to play well and can take on a larger responsibility. They know that Parker is an effective player if he is used properly.
Would the Eagles start looking for an end, just in case? I think they always look at ends. A good defensive end is a precious commodity in this league. The Eagles have added and added and added to the end positions over the recent years, and this is how it looks now: A Pro Bowl player in Trent Cole, a veteran in Darren Howard who is (hold your breath) having a tremendous training camp, a veteran in Parker who is good rotational end, Clemons, who had one good season (last year in Oakland) after struggling to find himself earlier in his career, and Smith, a rookie third-round draft pick.
The good news is that Clemons is going to be fine and that Abiamiri will be back, in time. It's just that having players miss practice time now means the player can never get those reps back. They are gone, vanished into the heat of the Lehigh Valley.
If Abiamiri shows significant progress in the next five weeks, the Eagles are likely to keep him active and hope he is on the field in the early fall. For the defensive line to not feel his loss, everyone else is going to have to step it up. Smith suddenly goes from being an innocent rookie to a young man on the spot. Can he give the Eagles 15 good snaps a game this season? Or is it a case all of a sudden in which Jerome McDougle has a new life here and a good chance to make the 53-man roster?
There are four preseason games to be played and many more practices to be had. You would love to say the injuries are over and done with, but this is football and the game is an ugly, violent one. Burkholder and his staff are great. They care. They research beyond belief. They make this football team better.
But sometimes, what happens on the field is far beyond their control. The Eagles still have depth at defensive end, but now it is a bit shakier. It's time for everyone else to step up, and to hope that Abiamiri is back to help this season.