Puffy, fluffy Guardian Caps could help curb NFL head injuries

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Every day during NFL teams’ training camps this summer, players headed to the practice fields with puffy additions to their helmets that look over-the-top and cartoonish enough to have been designed by Michelin Man. In roughly 130 years of football helmet history, from leather caps to plastic orbs to single bar face masks to full face masks, nothing has ever quite resembled the newly mandated Guardian caps, which are reminders and coverage against the sport. inherent dangers.

This year, the NFL required all offensive and defensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers to wear the padded, padded covers attached to the outside of their helmets at practices through this weekend’s preseason games. According to the league, spongy additions reduce the severity of an impact by at least 10 percent if a player involved in an on-field collision wears one, and by at least 20 percent if both players involved are in caps.

In recent seasons, the NFL has worked to reduce head impacts and curb the rate of concussions. Have modified rules, encouraged and demanded the use of better performance helmets and adjusted training schedules and how game techniques are taught. This summer, the addition of Guardian Caps has been a noticeable change for anyone who has been tuned in to training camps.

“It was different getting used to it,” veteran Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said this week at his team’s camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. “Obviously, they don’t look pretty. When you go to tackle, it almost feels like you have a pillow over your head.”

Although the caps are an odd sight (modern American gladiator hats became Mario’s Toad), they make an even stranger sound on a football field than they look. In drills, linemen bump into each other and what used to be a CHAT! of the hooves is now muffled by the creaking of the padding. Still, most gamers say that lightweight devices made from polyurethane foam have little to no effect on their game.

In Washington, as elsewhere, the caps have received mixed reviews from the public by those who wear them. Some players who have dealt with concussions, such as Commanders tight end Sammis Reyes, said they appreciate the collaborative efforts of the NFL and the NFL Players Association to promote safety. Others seem less satisfied. When a reporter asked Commanders defensive tackle Jonathan Allen about the caps, he said, “No comment.”

Allen, along with the rest of the players at his position, wore the caps for more than three weeks of practice this summer. According to Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, the decision to wear such a helmet was based on data.

“The position groups that were part of the mandate are the position groups that have the highest helmet impact rate in our data and what we have seen thus far,” Sills said in a recent phone interview. “And then of course training camps, that period up to the first preseason game, that is the highest period for contact density, meaning there are more contact practices during that time than any other time. during the year. So it makes sense to start with the most vulnerable players in terms of number of hits and also the most vulnerable time of the year.”

About 100 NFL players, some with Guardian Caps and some without, have been wearing sensor mouthguards during camp, Sills said. The sensors measure the force of hits those players receive, which will help the league compare the impacts experienced by players wearing caps to those experienced by players without them.

“We want everyone on the field to be safer and all positions to be safer,” Sills said. “But the reason we started with these groups of positions is that our data suggested that they have the highest rate of helmet impacts. So that’s the biggest exposure. And any time you talk about vulnerability to injury, you should start by trying to reduce exposure.”

The goal, Sills said, is not only to reduce the number of concussions players get during training camp, but also to reduce the severity of those injuries. subconcussive impacts that can lead to later problems.

“We think there is a body of work suggesting that fewer strokes occurring earlier in the year may also offer a lower concussion rate later in the year,” Sills said. “So we’ll be keeping an eye on that.”

According to NFL data, the number of concussions players suffered in each of the last four seasons is 25 percent lower than the level of the previous three seasons.

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Initially, some players were hesitant to accept the caps because they suspected the helmet might hinder their game. Seattle Seahawks tight end Noah Fant called wearing the cap “a little inconvenient.” Arizona Cardinals defensive end JJ Watt said he felt “like a bobblehead.” Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce appeared to mock the effort by adding bubble wrap to his helmet, later telling reporters he was “just having fun.” And Cole Turner, a rookie tight end for the Commanders, asked if he could take his hat off on the first day of camp and was told no. The explanation? it is a ruler

“I look at everyone else and I think they look a little silly. But I guess I’m one of them, too,” Turner said, adding that he usually forgets he’s wearing the cap until he sees the shadow of it. “My head seems twice as big as usual, and I already have a big head. So it’s not great.”

Others felt more positively. Commanders linebacker Jamin Davis said he knew the caps weren’t “too annoying or cosmic or anything” because he had worn one once while he was in college in Kentucky. And Keith Ismael, a center from Washington, pointed out that the people who would most appreciate the hats weren’t on the field. He started playing football in the seventh grade and his mother, Johanna Woodby, was always on top of his head.

In college, Ishmael suffered a concussion. He recently said that although he wishes he had had the limit before his 12th year playing football, he is better late than never. And he joked that he already knew how his mom would react when she texted him a picture: “[I’ll] be like, ‘Hey, look, security this year!’ She’ll be like, ‘Oh my God. Thanks god. My baby boy!'”

Sills acknowledged that the limits will require a “learning curve for everyone.” But he said feedback from players, coaches, team managers and medical staff has been positive so far.

“I think people understand and appreciate the rationale behind this initiative, and they understand the science behind it,” Sills said. “And obviously players and coaches want to do anything that makes them safer and more likely to be available and less likely to get injured. We will continue to collect those comments. Obviously, we’ll compare that feedback with data, injury data, but also sensor data on those players who use sensors and also video data, and take a more comprehensive look at the results.”

Sills added that “everything is on the table” in terms of possible future use of the caps later in the preseason or perhaps during practices in the regular season. And commanders coach Ron Rivera, a member of the NFL’s rule-making competition committee, said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the hat-wearing mandate expand in the future to include off-season workouts and potential practices during the season. regular season.

“If this comes to light and really helps reduce [the risk of concussions]So I imagine we would continue to find ways for the health and safety of the players,” Rivera said.

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But some in the game are skeptical about the benefits and feasibility of expanded use. New York Jets coach Robert Saleh expressed concern that players are getting used to the “soft hit” and wearing their helmets more, which increases the risk of head injuries. Reyes, the Commanders’ tight end, thinks wearing caps during games won’t happen for economic and poignant reasons. “It would take some of the fun out of soccer,” he said.

The NFL has regularly found that every time it introduces a new safety measure, some players are hesitant to accept the changes in a sport they’ve played since childhood. But eventually, albeit sometimes reluctantly, players have adapted to everything from penalties for illegal hits to changing their preferred helmet model. Heyward called the caps “good for our game” as those involved look for “positive ways” for players to avoid head injuries, despite the initial adjustment required.

“We have to continue to evolve the game to reduce head contact in general,” Sills said. “And that means looking at how we’re teaching and training, what the rules of the game are in terms of permissible head contact because we believe, and I think we’ve stated very publicly, that we want to see reduced head contact in all facets. of the game”.

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