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Offseason concussion woes of NFL players a scary reminder of a serious problem

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Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy (USA Today Sports Images)

Linebacker Colin McCarthy is finally feeling well enough from his concussion issues to go through non-contact minicamp practices with the Tennessee Titans. Ryan Swope, a rookie receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, is not there quite yet.

It's almost July. Neither player has played a competitive football game in almost six months. Yet the concussions linger.

For both, the concern has to be twofold. Most importantly, dealing with concussion symptoms that won't go away for months has to lead them to wonder when (if?) they will finally subside. Also of pretty significant importance is what the problem could do to their careers.

When McCarthy has been healthy, he has been one of the most dynamic, young middle linebackers in the game. The problem is he has rarely been healthy. An ankle injury that required surgery to remove a bone was not fun to deal with, but at least there were easy answers and timetables. According to the Tennessean, McCarthy has been dealing with concussion issues throughout this offseason. The symptoms were a reason he missed nine games last year. The paper said McCarthy met with a concussion specialist in Pittsburgh this offseason, and had a follow-up meeting just last week before a minicamp.

“It was my best visit. It was encouraging,” McCarthy told the Tennessean. “Concussions, it’s a serious issue. It’s been frustrating to deal with. You want to be out there playing, but you want to be smart at the same time. … I finally feel like I have that out of the way.’’

The Titans signed veteran Moise Fokou and let him work with the first-team defense this offseason. The team had to make a move; McCarthy hasn't shown he can stay healthy. At the same time, it has to make him a bit anxious to return, concussion symptoms or not. It's a reminder that if he can't go, the Titans have his replacement ready. There's a reason for years we didn't hear much about players' concussion symptoms lingering through the offseason. It's not like it's a new phenomenon.

For Swope, the concern is that he will never get the chance to make it in the NFL. Swope slipped to the sixth round in the draft, despite being a very productive receiver at Texas A&M who also ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Concussion issues played a part in his draft stock slipping, but the Cardinals said this week they didn't expect them to last so long that he still would still be awaiting doctor's clearance to participate in offseason practices.

"We were very, very, very surprised about it," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told NFL.com. "I'm not sure what he can do, I'm not sure what the doctors are going to do at this point. I hope ... because the kid is a great talent, and it would be a shame. But having Austin Collie last year, go through this same thing, it's scary."

At least these teams and players are taking it slow. As concussion awareness becomes a bigger part of the game we're likely to hear more stories like these two, even though there are probably many others that aren't being reported.

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