August 16, 2023
The NFL is expanding use of the padded softshell caps that players have been wearing for the duration of preseason practices, as well as regular season contact practices, amid signs they’re cutting down on concussions.
Why it matters: Player safety has been under increased scrutiny, and the Guardian Caps worn by offensive and defensive linemen, tight ends and linebackers resulted in 52% fewer concussions up to the second preseason game this year, compared to an average of the same period over the previous three preseasons.
Driving the news: The league will mandate the use of Guardian Caps for those positions, as well as running backs, during preseason practices and regular season contact practices, Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president overseeing player health and safety told reporters.
• Additionally, a new league rule aimed at reducing injuries on kick returns will allow players to fair catch on kickoffs, with the resulting possession beginning at the team’s own 25-yard line. That change is expected to result in a 15% reduction in kick returns, Miller said.
• Starting this week, the league also will expand testing VICIS helmets designed for specific positions to quarterbacks during pre-season games and regular season contact practices, but not regular season games, officials said. The helmets had initially been available only to linemen.
What they’re saying: “Each position group sees the world a little differently; experiences the game differently,” Miller said.
Between the lines: Engineers designed tests to replicate the frequency, magnitude, direction and location of forces experienced by specific position groups, Miller said.
• For linemen, an additional level of protection was added up on the forehead of the VICIS helmets, where players typically experience more impact. The quarterback-specific helmet has more protection at the back of the helmet, he said.
• “Oftentimes they’re getting sacked, they’re holding onto the ball, they’re not bracing for impact and their head is hitting the ground,” Miller said. The helmet tested 40% to 50% better in the lab mitigating the forces from the impact, he said.
• Steeler’s quarterback Kenny Pickett is among the early adopters.
• The NFL Player’s Association declined to comment.
Yes, but: Even with a public focus on concussions in the NFL, the league continues to struggle with reducing their frequency, reporting an 18% increase the serious head injury among players last season.
Our thought bubble: Figuring out how to reduce injuries isn’t only critical for professional athletes but for the thousands of amateur football players, including kids. A study published last week found amateur football players may face an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
• A 2021 study found youth tackle football athletes experienced a median of 378 head impacts per athlete during the season and sustained 23 times more high-magnitude head impacts compared to those playing flag football.