NFL hopes to reduce head injuries with helmet experiment


By STEVE REED - AP Sports Writer



Washington Commanders running back Jonathan Williams wears a Guardian Cap football helmet during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Wednesday, July 27, 2022 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Commanders running back Jonathan Williams wears a Guardian Cap football helmet during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Wednesday, July 27, 2022 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


Cleveland Browns helmets, with Guardian Caps, hang from a rack during the NFL football team's training camp, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)


Carolina Panthers tackle Wyatt Miller warms up at the NFL football team's training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)


AP Explainer: Guardian Caps

Part of the NFL’s safety experiments to reduce head injuries is the expanded use of the padded helmet caps NFL players have been seen wearing during training camps this summer.

All offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends are required to wear the Guardian Caps at practices through the second preseason game. This covers the part of the season NFL studies have shown has the greatest concentration of helmet impacts.

Several NFL teams tested the caps last year and the league’s competition committee mandated all teams use them this summer.

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told The Associated Press the league will analyze data from the training camp practices and review the feedback it gathers from all 32 teams to see what impact the shells actually had on reducing head trauma and to inform future health and safety efforts.

Here’s a look at the Guardian Caps and their use in the NFL:

IS THE ODD-LOOKING HEADGEAR UNIQUE?

The model being worn at NFL training camps is not the same model seen on college and high school football fields. It’s designed to absorb the greater impacts of faster, stronger players in the pros.

The Guardian Caps feature a 12-ounce padded shell that is affixed to the top of a player’s helmet. The NFL has said studies indicate that when one player wears the protective gear it results in at least a 10% reduction in severity of impact. That number increases to at least 20% if both players involved in a collision are wearing them.

HOW WILL THE NFL EVALUATE THE CAPS’ EFFECTIVENESS?

Sills said the league will review feedback “from players, coaches and equipment managers about what they felt, what their perception was with the caps” and study concussion data during the preseason.

Sills said the use of the equipment at training camps could also possibly help reduce head injuries during the season when the Guardian Caps are no longer required.

“Not absorbing so many blows during training camp will hopefully be protective in terms of reducing concussion vulnerability later in the season,” the league’s chief medical officer said.

WHAT OTHER SAFETY TRIALS ARE BEING CONDUCTED?

Four teams — the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles — are participating in a program in which high-tech, mouth guard sensors are being used to collect kinematic data, including impact speed, direction, force, location and severity of hits.

This study works hand in hand with the Guardian Caps, Sills said.

“We’ve got a of subset of players with four teams who are wearing mouth guards that have sensors in them. And we actually can measure what force is being transmitted inside the helmet. So we will have data on that cohort of players,” Sills said.

The doctor said the mouth guard program will continue past the Guardian Caps trial, allowing for a comparison of helmet impacts with and without the caps.

IS THERE SKEPTISM ABOUT THE GAURDIAN CAPS?

There is. Some NFL players and coaches have questioned whether the caps will work, including New York Jets coach Robert Saleh.

Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, also is not convinced the Guardian Caps will help prevent brain trauma.

“The reality is when you’re talking about 10% reduction (on impacts) as a best-case scenario, that will be offset by having more hits to your helmet,” Nowinski said. “So the influence on long-term CTE is, in the best case, probably microscopic.”

WHAT DO PLAYERS THINK OF THE GUARDIAN CAPS?

More than 100 NCAA programs have used the Guardian Caps in the past couple of years, so some NFL players were already accustomed to them.

Their opinions vary on the effectiveness and future use of the caps, but players generally embrace any safety effort to reduce head injuries.

WILL GUARDIAN CAPS BECOME PART OF NFL GEAR?

Sills said it’s too early to predict whether some form of the Guardian Caps will become as common as shoulder pads or other equipment, but noted that the NFL is “open-minded to where the data takes us.”

Possible next steps include requiring the Guardian Caps during the 14 full-padded practices teams are allowed during the regular season and some iteration of the product might one day be used in games, too.

Manufacturers might also incorporate some of the technology into the helmets themselves.

Sills said the Guardian Caps have already produced an unexpected perk. Teams that tested them out last year found their quarterbacks didn’t have to worry about breaking a finger on an offensive lineman’s helmet.

“That wasn’t something we thought of,” Sills said, “but it’s something we’ve heard about and maybe … a side benefit.”

___ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

The mushroom-like contraptions NFL players are wearing on their helmets during training camp may look strange, but they’re a part of an ongoing safety experiment the league hopes will lead to a reduction in head injuries.

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

“There’s a density of exposure, and a density of injury, at the beginning of training camp and the competition committee has been looking for ways to change that,” said Jeff Miller, executive vice president for NFL player health and safety.

The league said laboratory research indicates the 12-ounce Guardian Caps result in at least a 10% reduction in severity of impact to a player’s brain. It says that number climbs to at least 20% if both players involved in a collision are wearing them.

Miller said mitigating those forces “will have a cumulative effect for the betterment of health and safety of the player.”

Not everyone, however, is convinced 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 be doing more harm than good.

“Adding weight to a helmet can make things worse for the brain when it comes to rotational impacts,” said Nowinski, who previously served as a 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 this in a lab. We aren’t sure if this will be a net positive or a net negative.”

New York Jets coach Robert Saleh also has concerns.

He questioned whether players are using their heads more now because the Guardian Caps soften the blow — something he believes could be an issue once the caps come off and actual games begin.

“Anyone who’s played football before knows that the first time you take those (caps) off or you hit with your helmet, or you have a collision, there’s a shock,” Saleh said. “If you’re waiting until the first game for that shock to happen, I think it’s … I don’t know. Time will tell.

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

Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver isn’t seeing the benefits of the caps either and Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce even openly mocked them.

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

“It’s just heavy,” Oliver said. “I like the way my helmet feels without it. I have been playing without it for this 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 add 20 percent protection,” Kelce quipped. “I figure the bubble wrap gave me another 2 or 3” percent.

Despite the skepticism, Miller said the feedback from most players has been positive — even if they feel the Guardian Caps look a little funny.

“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 good reason. They did studies with them. Anything to keep us safer, why not do it?

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

Added Tennessee Titans tackle Taylor Lewan: “Honestly, at first I was like, ‘What a stupid looking thing. This is the dumbest looking thing I’ve ever seen.’ But honestly, I’m not gonna lie, it’s kind of nice.”

Safety concerns about head injuries in the NFL has 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 some of the players who have died by suicide and later were determined to have the degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head.

The league announced in February there were 187 concussions during practice and games in 2021.

That’s one reason the NFL’s competition committee, given the data presented to them by lab researchers, mandated that offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends — players who see the most head impacts during practice — wear the Guardian Caps this summer after five teams and about 100 players experimented with them last year at training camp.

The introduction convinced guard Austin Corbett.

He voluntarily wore his Guardian Cap in practice throughout 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 is “morally obligated” to keep them safe and believes they’re useful.

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

Defining the future of Guardian Caps is not so easy.

Miller said the next steps will largely depend on feedback they receive from players, as well as whether the data gathered from the 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 at some point it’s going to be mandated through OTAs and minicamp,” said Rivera, a former linebacker with the Bears. “If this really helps reduce (head injuries), then I’d 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.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Washington Commanders running back Jonathan Williams wears a Guardian Cap football helmet during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility, Wednesday, July 27, 2022 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/08/web1_129407314-f7b57ba8bbe04565a2e8fe89e4e1cca5-1.jpgWashington Commanders running back Jonathan Williams wears a Guardian Cap football helmet during practice at the team’s NFL football training facility, Wednesday, July 27, 2022 in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Cleveland Browns helmets, with Guardian Caps, hang from a rack during the NFL football team’s training camp, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/08/web1_129407314-8a1085b6ff7442edb1424c307f329790-1.jpgCleveland Browns helmets, with Guardian Caps, hang from a rack during the NFL football team’s training camp, Thursday, July 28, 2022, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Carolina Panthers tackle Wyatt Miller warms up at the NFL football team’s training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/08/web1_129407314-d6b4df7b98ab4feab18a7a833a629831-1.jpgCarolina Panthers tackle Wyatt Miller warms up at the NFL football team’s training camp at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

AP Explainer: Guardian Caps

Part of the NFL’s safety experiments to reduce head injuries is the expanded use of the padded helmet caps NFL players have been seen wearing during training camps this summer.

All offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends are required to wear the Guardian Caps at practices through the second preseason game. This covers the part of the season NFL studies have shown has the greatest concentration of helmet impacts.

Several NFL teams tested the caps last year and the league’s competition committee mandated all teams use them this summer.

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, told The Associated Press the league will analyze data from the training camp practices and review the feedback it gathers from all 32 teams to see what impact the shells actually had on reducing head trauma and to inform future health and safety efforts.

Here’s a look at the Guardian Caps and their use in the NFL:

IS THE ODD-LOOKING HEADGEAR UNIQUE?

The model being worn at NFL training camps is not the same model seen on college and high school football fields. It’s designed to absorb the greater impacts of faster, stronger players in the pros.

The Guardian Caps feature a 12-ounce padded shell that is affixed to the top of a player’s helmet. The NFL has said studies indicate that when one player wears the protective gear it results in at least a 10% reduction in severity of impact. That number increases to at least 20% if both players involved in a collision are wearing them.

HOW WILL THE NFL EVALUATE THE CAPS’ EFFECTIVENESS?

Sills said the league will review feedback “from players, coaches and equipment managers about what they felt, what their perception was with the caps” and study concussion data during the preseason.

Sills said the use of the equipment at training camps could also possibly help reduce head injuries during the season when the Guardian Caps are no longer required.

“Not absorbing so many blows during training camp will hopefully be protective in terms of reducing concussion vulnerability later in the season,” the league’s chief medical officer said.

WHAT OTHER SAFETY TRIALS ARE BEING CONDUCTED?

Four teams — the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles — are participating in a program in which high-tech, mouth guard sensors are being used to collect kinematic data, including impact speed, direction, force, location and severity of hits.

This study works hand in hand with the Guardian Caps, Sills said.

“We’ve got a of subset of players with four teams who are wearing mouth guards that have sensors in them. And we actually can measure what force is being transmitted inside the helmet. So we will have data on that cohort of players,” Sills said.

The doctor said the mouth guard program will continue past the Guardian Caps trial, allowing for a comparison of helmet impacts with and without the caps.

IS THERE SKEPTISM ABOUT THE GAURDIAN CAPS?

There is. Some NFL players and coaches have questioned whether the caps will work, including New York Jets coach Robert Saleh.

Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, also is not convinced the Guardian Caps will help prevent brain trauma.

“The reality is when you’re talking about 10% reduction (on impacts) as a best-case scenario, that will be offset by having more hits to your helmet,” Nowinski said. “So the influence on long-term CTE is, in the best case, probably microscopic.”

WHAT DO PLAYERS THINK OF THE GUARDIAN CAPS?

More than 100 NCAA programs have used the Guardian Caps in the past couple of years, so some NFL players were already accustomed to them.

Their opinions vary on the effectiveness and future use of the caps, but players generally embrace any safety effort to reduce head injuries.

WILL GUARDIAN CAPS BECOME PART OF NFL GEAR?

Sills said it’s too early to predict whether some form of the Guardian Caps will become as common as shoulder pads or other equipment, but noted that the NFL is “open-minded to where the data takes us.”

Possible next steps include requiring the Guardian Caps during the 14 full-padded practices teams are allowed during the regular season and some iteration of the product might one day be used in games, too.

Manufacturers might also incorporate some of the technology into the helmets themselves.

Sills said the Guardian Caps have already produced an unexpected perk. Teams that tested them out last year found their quarterbacks didn’t have to worry about breaking a finger on an offensive lineman’s helmet.

“That wasn’t something we thought of,” Sills said, “but it’s something we’ve heard about and maybe … a side benefit.”

___ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer