A somber silence was nonetheless gripping and clinging to the Jets’ apply area whereas Zach Wilson performed catch with three little sons of coach Robert Saleh, a candy, harmless reminder cameo from a sport that’s eternally a child’s recreation for everybody from Tom Brady, who turned 44 on at the present time, to Wilson, who turned 22 on at the present time.
But a couple of half an hour earlier, the game provided a daunting reminder that your subsequent play can be your final play on Any Given Sunday — or Any Given Tuesday at coaching camp.
A reserve offensive deal with named Cameron Clark, a fourth-round 2020 draft alternative out of Charlotte who didn’t see the sector as a rookie, crumpled to the grass with a neck injury and wasn’t transferring close to the end of the Jets’ first padded apply.
Alarm bells started ringing loudly above the hush, as a result of neck accidents don’t care if you’re 6-foot-4, 308 kilos and 23 years previous.
I watched in horror from the press field on Nov. 29, 1992, when a 6-4, 270-pound defensive end named Dennis Byrd, simply 26 years previous and married, crashed headfirst into teammate Scott Mersereau’s chest trying to sack Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg on the Meadowlands. Byrd broke the fifth cervical vertebrae in his neck and wrote an inspirational story of braveness when he willed himself to stroll once more, to midfield for the ceremonial coin toss on the 1993 opener. There wasn’t a dry eye in the home. He would by no means play the sport he cherished once more.
Doctors and trainers rushed to Cameron Clark’s aspect. Teammates stood in hushed silence from a brief distance, white-jerseyed offensive gamers on one aspect, green-jerseyed defensive gamers on one aspect, and watched with grave concern. Saleh walked over to his fallen participant and let the medical workers do its factor.
There was one apply interval left, however Saleh canceled it. His “All gas, no brake” mantra grew to become “All brake, no gas.”
Clark was positioned on a backbone board and lifted into a close-by ready ambulance. The ambulance sat nonetheless on a street adjoining to the sector for quarter-hour earlier than it departed slowly for Morristown Medical Center, its crimson lights flashing.
Fingers crossed all over the place for Cameron Clark.
Prayers all over the place for Cameron Clark.
At 5:37 p.m., Jets’ prayers — everybody’s prayers — have been answered. The membership launched this assertion: “Cameron Clark has been diagnosed with a spinal cord contusion and he is expected to make a full recovery. He will remain in Morristown Medical Center.”
At his press convention, Saleh was requested if Clark had motion in his extremities.
“Speaking with the doctor, he did have some,” he stated, “but as far as the details and all that stuff, we’re gonna wait for further evaluation.”
Wilson’s chemistry with fellow rookie Elijah Moore, his adapting to stress from the defensive position shrank the pocket to a telephone sales space and compelled him to underthrow a deep shot or two, even his birthday, appeared insignificant now.
“What it takes to get to this position and then just how that can change his life, I don’t know how serious anything is, but you feel for the dude and you take every day and approach every play like it could be your last,” Wilson stated. “I’m not sure if it is, he could be back tomorrow, I have no idea, but it’s just a scary situation when someone is getting carted off the field.”
“You just pray that he’s going to be all right. You hope God can just watch over him and everything he’s doing. It kind of just shocks everyone a little bit.”
One 12 months previous to Byrd’s tragic occasion, a 6-6, 288-pound Lions guard named Mike Utley, quickly to be 26, broke three vertebrae in his neck in a freak accident whereas move blocking and endured a spinal twine injury that ultimately paralyzed him from the chest down. He flashed a thumbs up as he was carted off the Silverdome area.
“Football goes away at that moment,” Saleh stated, “and it’s about the person, his family, his mom and everyone in his life. That’s what takes precedence at that moment, so football just kinda goes away, and you get empathy in the sense that we all have families. … Everything’s gonna be good.”
He didn’t know that proper then and there, after all. He had caught what had occurred solely out of the nook of his eye.
“I’m an optimist,” Saleh stated. “God willing, everything’s gonna be just fine. I thought our doctors were all available, and they tended to him pretty quickly and did a really nice job … and now we wait.”
During a 1978 preseason recreation, a 26-year-old Patriots receiver named Darryl Stingley collided on the Oakland Coliseum with violent Raiders security Jack Tatum, compressing his spinal twine and breaking his fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae. Stingley spent the remainder of his life as a quadriplegic with restricted motion in his proper arm.
Clark, the 129th decide, was the second offensive lineman drafted in 2020 by GM Joe Douglas, after first-round decide Mekhi Becton.
“A tremendous young man, and he’s got a lot of great work ethic,” Saleh stated. “A guy who’s well-liked in the room. The game is very important to him. He’s been moving in the right direction. Hopefully everything comes out good on these checkups and we can get him back here soon.”
Saleh is married and a father of seven. His gamers at each cease in his NFL profession have cherished him as a result of he loves them. He managed a smile and a chuckle close to the end of his press convention after I requested him in regards to the three tots sporting inexperienced 21 jerseys catching passes from his rookie quarterback.
“Oh man … my little dudes. That’s my little army. Each and every one of ’em’s a blessing, so it’s always good to see ’em,” he stated.
His little dudes, his little military, have been fortunately too younger to sweat the gravity of what had befallen Cameron Clark.