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Publish Date: 8/23/2005

The Broncos returned to practice Monday less than 48 hours after San Francisco’s Thomas Herrion collapsed and died after a game against Denver at Invesco Field.AP/Hyoung Chang

Broncos players also stunned
Former teammates of Herrion grieve for guard

ENGLEWOOD — At midfield, they would’ve shaken hands, laughed and asked how each other was doing.

But that moment didn’t take place for Denver Broncos offensive tackle Tyson Clabo. Moments before the conclusion of the Broncos’ 26-21 preseason win over San Francisco on Saturday, Clabo walked into the locker room to get treatment on a sore ankle.

Clabo wouldn’t get to say one final goodbye to San Francisco offensive lineman Thomas Herrion, who collapsed in the locker room after the game and was pronounced dead at 11:18 p.m. The official cause of death is pending.

“If I could do it over again, I’d have limped out there and saw how he was doing and talked to him,” Clabo said. “This is tough.”

Clabo and Herrion were teammates this spring for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe. Clabo manned right tackle and Herrion left tackle.

“He was a good guy and a good teammate,” Clabo said. “You don’t want that to happen to anybody, but when it’s someone you know, it’s difficult.”

Denver defensive lineman Aaron Hunt did make the trip to midfield to converse with Herrion. Hunt, also a member of the Sea Devils, was one of the last ones to ever speak to him.

Hunt noticed that Herrion looked exhausted. He chalked it up to the fact that Herrion had just helped the 49ers on a 14-play, 91-yard touchdown drive in the closing moments of the game.

“You could tell he was tired, but we didn’t think it was anything to worry about at the time,” Hunt said. “He was about to rest. It was odd. We were just talking about old stuff, each other, cracking jokes.”

And then Herrion made an interesting comment about the altitude. Apparently, he was struggling with it.

“He told me he doesn’t see how I (deal with the elevation),” Hunt said.

A source told ESPN.com on Monday that Herrion had never tested positive for steroids or performance-enhancing drugs, including ephedra products, during his two years in the league. A toxicology report by the coroner won’t be released for a few weeks.

The 49ers will hold a team memorial for Herrion tonight. Denver players will be thinking of their NFL brethren.

“It could be someone on our team,” Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said. “It could be me, any of us. It’s sad for everybody.”

On the game’s final drive, Denver defensive lineman Luther Elliss went up against Herrion. Elliss still can’t believe he’s gone.

“We were out there playing hard, talking a little bit,” Elliss said. “We were jibber-jabbering and having fun. He looked fine.

“You think you’re indestructible, think you can conquer the world and can’t be hurt, and something like this happens.”

Are NFL offensive linemen too big these days? Did that contribute to Herrion’s death? He’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, but he’s supposedly closer to 330 pounds. It’s a concern that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is taking seriously.

“We’re looking at that,” Tagliabue said during a press conference Monday in Foxborough, Mass. “But I saw some numbers just recently indicating that 10 years ago, we had 400-plus players in the 290-pound range, and from a statistical standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be much of a change.”

That said, this was a wake-up call for Denver offensive lineman George Foster, who’s roughly the same body type as Herrion. He’s going to carefully monitor himself.

“If you don’t feel right, you might want to say something about it,” Foster said. “I’ve been blessed to be in pretty good shape. I don’t get winded too often.”

But does he think he carries too much weight?

“That’s hard because I didn’t try to get 325,” Foster said. “It’s just a natural progression. I’m just living, man. I don’t monitor it too much. If I felt it was getting out of hand, I would definitely keep an eye on it. This is just me.”

On the way in to work today, Herrion was on Foster’s mind.

“It makes you value the things you have,” Foster said.

Denver running back Tatum Bell felt the same way.

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