Death of 49ers lineman hits close to home

Ravens notebook

Drawing from experience, Billick counsels Nolan

Pro Football

August 23, 2005|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The death of San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion sent a ripple through the Ravens organization.

49ers coach Mike Nolan, who was the Ravens' defensive coordinator the previous three seasons, spoke with Ravens coach Brian Billick on how to deal with the loss. Herrion died after the 49ers' preseason game Saturday in Denver.

Billick, while a coach at Utah State in the 1980s, said he, too, lost a player. Billick also coached Korey Stringer, who was the last NFL player before Herrion to die in an on-the-field-related incident.

"It's tough. I've been through that," Billick said.

"I have talked with Mike and offered whatever support we could. Mike's very diligent that way. Mike will get on the phone in a New York second and canvass a number of people, `What do you think I should do? How should I handle this?'"

Ravens defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu was an acquaintance of Herrion's. Kemoeatu was a senior when Herrion was a freshman at Utah and described him as a "good kid."

"He just wanted to have a good time," Kemoeatu said. "It was his dream come true to play in the NFL."

Although an autopsy failed to conclusively show what the cause of death was, the underlying issue of players' weights has again come to the forefront. Herrion was 6 feet 3 and 310 pounds.

Stringer, also an offensive lineman, died of heatstroke after a 90-degree practice four years ago.

"It is scary," Kemoeatu said. "It scared me. I'm at 345, and I feel like I need to be at 335. That's one of those things where you have to get checked; check your body fat, try to stay in shape and keep your heart rate up."

Asked if there is something the league can do, such as mandate a weight maximum, Billick placed the onus more on the individual as well.

"I don't know how you do that," Billick said. "I think we have to keep it in proportion to the number of individuals we're talking about over the span of time, the years. I don't know that it's been determined what exactly the difficulty was."

Heap practices

Tight end Todd Heap practiced with the team for the first time yesterday, testing his injured shoulder in the non-padded workout.

Heap will practice again today in pads but is not expected to play Friday night against the New Orleans Saints. Cornerback Dale Carter, who has missed both preseason games with a groin injury, also practiced.

Linebacker Peter Boulware is expected to return to practice this week but not play against the Saints. Cornerback Samari Rolle, meanwhile, did not practice, and his status for the game is in doubt. Rolle injured his knee against the Philadelphia Eagles.

"You just have to be smart about it and make sure you feel better," Rolle said.

Billick backs Boller

Billick spent the bulk of his news conference standing up for quarterback Kyle Boller's showing Saturday night. Boller threw two interceptions and fumbled away the ball after a sack in three of his five possessions against Philadelphia's first-team defense.

"Our quarterback got hit four of the first eight times he went back to throw the ball," Billick said. "Some of it is his own responsibility, being responsible for certain [throws under a blitz].

"We had a running back miss an assignment. We had tight ends make a technical error and miss an assignment. We had another running back make an error on a [blitz] throw. We had an offensive lineman that just flat whiffed a guy, which is going to happen. Those are all correctable.

"Make no mistake, Kyle is responsible for the way he reacted. He could have mitigated some of it. He could have helped himself through it a little bit. But I do think he kept his cool and came back and led a pretty good drive at the end of a half to score."

Lateral trouble

Billick was still steaming over the forward lateral call that cost his team a touchdown Saturday.

Ed Reed pitched the ball back to Chris McAlister as the two sprinted toward the end zone, but the momentum of the players going forward made McAlister catch the ball a yard ahead of where Reed released it.

"The problem is the definition the league has brought to a lateral via the Music City Miracle in trying to be very specific about the launch point and catch point is adequate for anytime someone is stationary or moving backward, which is typically where you are dealing with," he said. " ... It wholly defies the laws of physics and nature with two bodies going forward.

"I don't believe that we want that play to not be legal when it was clearly a pitch back."

End zone

The Ravens have made $11 million in improvements to M&T Bank Stadium. ... The father of right guard Edwin Mulitalo died yesterday. Mulitalo missed Saturday night's game to be with his family. ... The Ravens have made no contact with quarterback Tim Couch.

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Ravens (0-2) at New Orleans Saints (1-1)

When: Friday, 8 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/1300 AM, 102.7 FM

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