By: Christopher Price
August 22, 2005

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The Patriots reacted to the death of Thomas Herrion yesterday with a mixture of shock and sadness.

The 23-year-old collapsed and died shortly after Saturday's game against the Broncos in Denver. The Denver coroner's office has performed an autopsy on Herrion, but said no cause of death could be determined until toxicology tests were performed. The tests usually take about three to six weeks.

Various reports regarding Herrion's health are starting to come out, all of which point to the fact that drugs were not involved. According to The New York Times, Herrion's family had a history of heart ailments. And ESPN reported that Herrion had never tested positive for any banned substance since he entered the NFL two years ago.

New England Head Coach Bill Belichick, who said yesterday he spoke with 49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan Sunday, recalled similar incidents that rocked other teams he's been with -- including the death of Patriots quarterback coach Dick Rehbein during training camp in 2001. But none this shattering.

"We're all shareholders and members of the team,” Belichick said. "To see something like that happen to any of us, regardless of who it is or whatever the conditions are, they're very difficult.

"I hope I don't ever have to experience it. It's tough,” he added. "But I think when you get into a situation like that, all you can do is rally around each other for support and try to support the family of the person that suffered the fatality. It's tough.”

The news resonated in the locker room, especially with the linemen. The Patriots currently have 20 players on their roster that are listed at 300 pounds or heavier, including 300-pound defensive lineman Ty Warren.

"You feel sorry for that player, that team, that organization and his family,” said Warren, who's 6-foot-5. "There are some things you can never prepare for, and that's one of them. You just feel sorry for that organization and his family.

"Death is one of those things you just can't prepare for. It hits healthy people, it hits unhealthy people,” he added. "It's something you just can't prepare for. But it's something you try and take heed to.”

"It's an unfortunate situation,” said linebacker Rosevelt Colvin. "You just have to pray for the situation, that positive things come out of it. As a professional athlete, you try and prepare yourself for those situations the best you can, but everyone knows our lives are out of our control. The Lord has the timetable.”

The death will again turn the spotlight on the overall health of linemen, most of who routinely check in at well over 300 pounds. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in town yesterday as part of a training camp tour, said the league is keeping a close eye on the fitness of some of their bigger players and "staying ahead of the curve” when it comes to identifying and understanding those troublesome issues.

"It's a time that we have to be reflective, and try to sort out what happened and try to carry on in a way that is sensible,” Tagliabue said. "We are working closely with the medical authorities and team physicians and others to see if the cause of this player's death can be ascertained. At this point, we don't have any answers.”

Christopher Price covers the Patriots for Boston Metro and He can be reached at [email protected].