Ram safety Vince Newsome’s season ended abruptly Wednesday when more sophisticated tests conducted for a pinched nerve in his neck revealed a herniated disk between his fifth and sixth vertebrae.
Newsome, 27, will be lost for the rest of the season, but has been assured by the team’s medical staff that he will be able to return at full strength next year.
“This is not a damaged disk,” trainer Jim Anderson said. “It’s a swelling of the disk, which is putting pressure on the nerve. If he continued to play with this, it could potentially become dangerous.”
Newsome, one of the team’s hardest hitters, suffered the injury Oct. 2 against the Phoenix Cardinals, when he collided violently with tight end Jay Novacek. Novacek is 6 feet 4 inches and 235 pounds. Newsome is 6-1 and 183.
Newsome sat out the next game, against Atlanta, but returned last Sunday against San Francisco. Newsome, in fact, played until the final minutes of the 49er game, although he said he aggravated the injury early in the game when he landed on his shoulder after making a tackle.
Newsome wouldn’t take himself out.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I just naturally think pain comes in this game.”
Anderson said: “We get pinched nerves all the time. We did normal tests. Once Vince said the neck felt good and he felt like playing, we allowed him to return.”
The Rams said the disk injury was discovered by Dr. Robert Watkins of Centinela Hospital Medical Center.
Anderson said that had Newsome continued playing in his condition, he would have been risking more serious injury, possibly paralysis.
Newsome was shocked by the news.
“When I look back on it now, I ask the question: ‘Why, after the initial injury against Phoenix, didn’t they find that out then?” Newsome asked. “And maybe had they found out then . . . maybe it got worse against San Francisco or maybe it didn’t. They’re saying it probably didn’t get any worse or any better. I just kind of think we should have went through the whole thing and found out in the first place.”
Newsome said he feels fortunate further damage was not caused by his playing.
“Based on the things that could have happened, with the way I hit, yeah, I am fortunate it’s not worse, that I’m not paralyzed or something like that,” he said. “But the injury wasn’t even close to that point.”
Newsome said he was told by doctors that rehabilitation for the injury usually lasts 3 months.
Newsome’s loss came as a blow to the Rams. Second-year man Michael Stewart will replace Newsome at strong safety. As a precautionary measure, Coach John Robinson said, the Rams may re-sign safety Frank Wattelet, who was released in training camp.
The injury also forced Robinson to move rookie Anthony Newman to strong safety as a backup. Robinson considered using Newman at cornerback.