NFL hopes to reduce head injuries with helmet experiment

The NFL’s competitive committee has mandated that all linemen, tight ends, and linebackers wear the mushroom-like caps through the second preseason game.

NEW YORK — The mushroom-like devices NFL players wear on their helmets during training camp may look odd, but they’re part of an ongoing safety experiment the league hopes will lead to a reduction in head injuries.

Called Guardian Caps, they’re now mandatory for all 32 NFL teams until the second preseason game — the time when the league says head injuries are most prevalent.

“Early on in training camp, there is a high density of exposure and injury, and the competition committee has been looking at ways to change that,” said Jeff Miller, executive vice president of NFL player health and safety.

The league said laboratory research shows the 12-ounce Guardian Caps result in at least a 10% reduction in the severity of impacts on a player’s brain. It is said that the number increases to at least 20% if both players involved in a collision are wearing it.

Miller said that nerfing these powers “will have a cumulative effect of improving the player’s health and safety.”

However, not everyone is convinced that Guardian Caps are the answer.

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Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, is “more than a little skeptical” that the extra padding will help prevent head injuries — and wonders if it could do more harm than good.

“Adding weight to a helmet can make things worse for the brain when it comes to rotational impact,” said Nowinski, who previously served as co-director of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.

“Adding size to the helmet does the same thing. It is very difficult to replicate this in a laboratory. We are not sure if this will be net positive or net negative.”

New York Jets coach Robert Saleh also has concerns.

He asked if players are now using their head more because the Guardian caps soften the hit – something he thinks could be a problem once the caps fall off and actual games begin.

“Anyone who has played football knows that there is a shock when you take these (caps) off for the first time, hit your helmet or have a collision,” Saleh said. “If you wait until the first game for that shock, I think it’s… I don’t know. We will see.

“It’s just interesting with these Guardian Caps, and what exactly are we trying to achieve?”

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver also doesn’t see the benefits of the caps, and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce even openly mocked them.

Oliver said the padded shells “annoyed” him, making him feel like “a bobblehead” on the field.

“It’s just hard,” Oliver said. “I like how my helmet feels without it. I’ve been playing without it for so long, I just don’t like it.”

Kelce showed up to an Eagles practice with extra bubble wrap on his helmet.

“They say the Guardian Caps offer 20 percent protection,” Kelce joked. “I guess the bubble wrap gave me another 2 or 3 percent.

Despite the skepticism, Miller said the feedback from most players has been positive – although they do think the Guardian caps look a little weird.

“I wouldn’t say they’re aesthetically pleasing, and I think we look a little goofy,” said Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert. “But they’re there for a reason. You studied with them. Anything to make us safer, why not?

“Obviously, you only get one brain. Might as well keep it, as best you can.”

Tennessee Titans tackled Taylor Lewan: “Honestly, at first I thought, ‘What a stupid looking thing. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.’ But honestly, I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of nice.”

Safety concerns about head injuries in the NFL have been growing for years.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (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 some of the players who died by suicide and were later found to be suffering from the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head.

The league announced in February that there had been 187 concussions during practice and games in 2021.

That’s one reason the NFL’s Competitive Committee, given data provided to them by lab researchers, ordered offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends — players who see the most headbutts during practice — this summer after five teams, according to the Guardian Wearing caps About 100 players tried it out at the training camp last year.

The introduction won over security guard Austin Corbett.

He wore his Guardian cap voluntarily during the regular season and playoffs during the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl run 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 has a “moral obligation” to protect them and that he believes they are useful.

And Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich agrees, saying the Guardian Caps’ recommendation was an “easy move.”

Defining the future of Guardian Caps is not that easy.

Miller said next steps will depend largely on player feedback, as well as whether data collected from use of the Guardian caps shows a reduction in head injuries.

Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera is already convinced; He believes guardian caps can be part of the norm in the NFL.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually becomes mandatory through OTAs and minicamps,” said Rivera, a former linebacker with the Bears. “If this really helps reduce (head injuries) then I would imagine we would continue to use them.”

AP Sports writers Teresa Walker, Tom Withers, John Wawrow, Dan Gelston, Steve Whyno, and Dennis Waszak Jr. contributed to this report. NFL hopes to reduce head injuries with helmet experiment

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