Mac Engel

TCU’s situation with QB Kenny Hill reveals flaw in recognizing serious injury

TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, here playing against Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, will not make the trip with his team to play at Texas Tech because he is suffering from concussion-like symptoms.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill, here playing against Oklahoma on Saturday in Norman, will not make the trip with his team to play at Texas Tech because he is suffering from concussion-like symptoms. AP

In reviewing the entire TCU game at Oklahoma and watching every TCU offensive snap, it’s not hard to see how no one caught the concussion suffered by quarterback Kenny Hill.

Hill will not be with the team when it flies to Lubbock to play Texas Tech on Saturday morning because he is out with concussion-like symptoms.

With 2:10 remaining in the game at Oklahoma, TCU faced a third-and-five from near its own end zone. Hill ran the ball and took a shot to his right side that forced him to the ground. Hill went into a fetal-like position and covered his face mask and was slow to rise.

“Hit hard, Kenny Hill,” Fox play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson said.

In reviewing the play, Hill suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit from Oklahoma defensive lineman Neville Gallimore. By rule, the hit should have been a penalty, but not an ejection for targeting.

The play happened so fast there is no way a referee could have caught this. No one, not even the player, could have noticed the severity of this hit in real time.

Watch the play here from FoxSports.com:

Hill remained in the game, and attempted a pass on the next play where he took a hit to the mid-section that did not knock him down. He attempted two more passes, and then TCU punted. The game ended shortly thereafter.

As well-intentioned as concussion-protocol measures are, this situation shows many of its flaws. There is no way to see a potential concussion when it happens this quickly, on a hit that looks so routine. In that moment Hill likely felt OK.

After that hit, Hill appeared to “shake it off” and kept playing. This is sports, and this is football.

In reviewing the game, there is one other play that had an obvious “concussion” potential.

With 8:54 remaining in the second quarter, Hill ran toward the end zone and appeared to take a serious hit. Hill’s body absorbed a shot by a smaller OU defender, cornerback Tre Brown, inside the 1-yard line. TCU immediately rushed to the line of scrimmage, and Hill scored on a keeper for a touchdown.

Hill played all but three snaps in the game. Those three plays came with three minutes remaining in the second quarter, when freshman Shawn Robinson executed three snaps.

Hill returned on the next offensive series. The fifth-year senior completed 13 of 28 passes for 270 yards, and ran the ball eight times for 40 yards. He was sacked twice.

One of the hidden challenges of a concussion is recognizing its more subtle symptoms in the moment. Hill or any player,can be evaluated with good intentions on the sidelines and simply not demonstrate or feel any concussion-like characteristics.

When the adrenaline fades and the heart rate and blood pressure return to a normal state is when the headaches start. The head throbs no matter the pain reliever.

In the ensuing hours and days the headaches will subside and a person can take over-the-counter pain reliever for preventive and helpful measures. He’s fine. But NFL players who have had concussions say once they exert themselves, and the heart rate and blood pressure increase, they’re not fine. The headaches return, as does pain in the eyes. A person may even feel sick to his stomach or experience pain in the opposite side of the head if he suffered a blow to the noggin.

Only time does the trick to fix this.

Note that Hill’s injury also potentially could have occurred during a practice this week, including Sunday, but after watching the game that appears unlikely. After TCU’s game on Saturday, head coach Gary Patterson said he told his players in the locker room at the half that if they didn’t play hard in the final 30 minutes they were going to scrimmage on Sunday.

TCU outscored Oklahoma 6-0 in the second half, and Patterson praised his team’s efforts. He gave no indication the team would scrimmage on Sunday. Also, November is not a normal time for full-contact during practice; teams are in injury prevention mode, and the quarterback usually wears a distinctive red jersey, meaning he’s a no-hit player.

Either way, Hill is out.

Hill’s hit shows the hidden danger in every play. It’s not the big hits that can knock out a player but rather the glancing blow that the naked eye can’t catch.

Mac Engel: @macengelprof

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