In a move aimed to improve concussion monitoring, the NFL sent a memo Tuesday to its 32 clubs that, effective this Thursday, the league observer, present at every game in the press box, will now be responsible to communicate directly with both teams' sidelines to alert the medical staffs of possible undetected injuries.
The memo, obtained by ESPN, does not specifically mention concussions, but league and NFLPA officials concede that head traumas are the priority for the new policy that will be in effect at every game for the remainder of the 2011 season.
"A direct ring-down phone line must be in place from the NFL Observer position in the press box to both the home and visiting bench areas," the memo reads. "This line should be clearly marked on the NFL Observer's phone. The purpose of the additional phone lines is to allow the NFL Observer to alert the Athletic Training staff to a possible injury that may have been missed at field-level."
After receiving a call, a team's athletic training staff is expected to "verify that the player is being checked or that he will follow up on the situation."
The press box observer can also be given recommendations from the NFL's command center if staffers from there see "a similar situation on the broadcast."
The memo, which was signed by NFL Players Association medical director Dr. Thom Mayer, also was distributed to all doctors who work with the 32 teams.
One incident that provided an impetus for the latest policy was an Oct. 23 concussion suffered by San Diego Chargers guard Kris Dielman, who was visibly staggering after a collision but waved off an on-field official who inquired about his well-being.
The team's medical staff claimed it did not have a clear sight line from the sidelines and Dielman did not complain of a concussion. He played the remaining 12:33 of the game and suffered a grand mal seizure on the team's flight home. He was placed on injured reserve last week after experiencing post-concussion symptoms.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on Monday night joked that he likely wouldn't reveal if he was suffering from a concussion after he landed on his head and neck while scoring a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Asked in a post-game interview by ESPN analyst Steve Young about appearing groggy after the violent impact with the turf, Gronkowski joked, saying, "I remember the moment, and everything. ... If I didn't I still wouldn't even say I didn't, because I want to play this week."
Chris Mortensen is ESPN's senior NFL analyst.