The mushroom-like gear NFL players wear on their helmets during training camp may seem odd, but they’re part of an ongoing safety experiment the league says will lead to reduced injuries in the head.
They’re called Guardian Caps, and they’re now mandatory for all 32 NFL teams through Game 2 of the preseason — when the league says head injuries are most prevalent.
“There is exposure density and injury density at the start of training camp and the competition committee has been looking at ways to change that,” said Jeff Miller, executive vice president for health and safety. NFL players.
The league said lab research indicates Guardian 12-ounce caps result in at least a 10% reduction in the severity of impact to a player’s brain. It says that number jumps to at least 20% if both players involved in a collision wear them.
Miller said mitigating these forces “will have a cumulative effect in improving player health and safety.”
However, not everyone is convinced that Guardian Caps are the answer.
Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, is “more than a little skeptical” that the extra padding helps prevent head injuries – and wonders if it could do more harm only good.
“Adding weight to a helmet can make things worse for the brain when it comes to rotational impacts,” said Nowinski, who was previously co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.
“Adding size to the helmet does the same thing. It’s very difficult to recreate that in a lab. We don’t know if it will be a net positive or a net negative.”
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh also has concerns.
He wondered if players are using their heads more now because the Guardian caps are softening the blow – which he thinks could be a problem once the caps are removed and actual games begin.
“Anyone who’s ever played football knows that the first time you take those (caps) off or hit with your helmet, or have a collision, there’s a shock,” Saleh said. “If you’re waiting for the first game for that clash to happen, I think it’s… I don’t know. Time will tell.
“It’s just interesting with these Guardian Caps, and what exactly are we trying to accomplish?”
Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver doesn’t see the benefits of the picks either, and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce has even openly mocked it.
Oliver said the padded shells “worse him down”, making him feel like “a bobblehead” on the court.
“It’s just heavy,” Oliver said. “I like the feel of my helmet without it. I’ve been playing without it for so long, I don’t like it.
Kelce showed up to an Eagles practice with extra bubble wrap on his helmet.
“They say the Guardian Caps add 20% protection,” Kelce joked. “I think the bubble wrap gave me another two or three” percent.
Despite the skepticism, Miller said feedback from most players was positive – although they thought the Guardian Caps looked a bit funny.
“I wouldn’t say they’re aesthetic, and I think we look a bit awkward,” Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said. “But they are there for a good reason. They studied with them. Everything to protect us, why not do it?
“Obviously you only get one brain. Might as well keep it as best you can.
Added Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan: “Honestly, at first I was like, ‘What a stupid thing. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. But honestly, I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty cool.
Safety concerns regarding head injuries in the NFL have been on the rise for years.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been found in the brains of more than 300 former players, according to the Concussion Legacy Foundation. Junior Seau, Andre Waters and Jovan Belcher are just a few of the players who took their own lives and were later determined to have the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated beatings to the head.
The league announced in February that there were 187 concussions in practices and games in 2021.
This is one of the reasons why the NFL Competition Committee, given the data presented by the lab researchers, required that offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends – players who see the most head impacts during training – wear the Guardian Caps this summer after five teams and around 100 players experienced them last year in training camp.
The introduction convinced goalie Austin Corbett.
He voluntarily wore his goalie cap in practice throughout the regular season and into the playoffs during the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl last year.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who is a member of the competition committee, told his players in a video released by the NFL that he was “morally obligated” to protect them and that he believed they were helpful.
And Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich agrees, saying the Guardian Caps recommendation was an “easy move.”
Defining the future of Guardian Caps is not so easy.
Miller said next steps will largely depend on feedback they receive from players, as well as whether data collected from the use of Guardian Caps shows a reduction in head injuries.
Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera is already convinced. he thinks Guardian Caps can be part of the norm in the NFL.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point it was to be mandated by OTAs and minicamp,” said Rivera, a former Bears linebacker. “If it really helps to reduce (head injuries) then I imagine we will continue” to use them.