Justin Ellis has performed defensive sort out within the NFL since 2014, and for the primary time throughout Monday’s observe, he mentioned he didn’t get vibrating and ringing in his ear when his helmet collided with an offensive lineman.

Sometimes “you’re going to feel like contact to your head when you’re on a block or a physical block. I can’t feel it at all, because of the Guardian,” Ellis mentioned after New York Giants observe Monday.

Guardian is the maker of the mushroom-shaped foam helmet wraparound caps mandated by the NFL to be used throughout coaching camp this yr for offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. The cap maker and the NFL, which funded some testing, tout statistics claiming the caps cut back influence velocities by 20 %.

It all sounds good, however there are skeptics. Jets head coach Robert Saleh made waves final week when he overtly apprehensive that the cap would possibly give a false sense of safety to the gamers.

“Too much of anything is a bad thing. I do think because of the soft blow, it’s lending the players to use their heads a little bit more,” Saleh mentioned.


Saints linemen put on their Guardian caps throughout a coaching camp session. (Stephen Lew / USA Today)

His counterpart on the Packers, Matt LaFleur, apprehensive about what occurs when the caps come off, telling reporters, “Now that they haven’t had that feeling of what it really feels like and now it’s live action … I think the intent is totally legit. I think that, but I don’t understand, if they’re going to wear them in practice, why aren’t we wearing them in the game?”

The NFL has no plans to require the caps in video games, as a substitute specializing in the rise in concussions throughout coaching camp final yr, in comparison with a decline throughout precise video games. And many of the greater than 2,000 excessive colleges and greater than 200 faculties that use them accomplish that solely in observe. According to Guardian, it has about 300,000 caps in circulation, together with at faculties starting from Clemson to USC.

Ironically, regardless of the NFL’s intent to not use the cap in video games, its lineage traces again to a short experiment within the Nineteen Nineties of some gamers sporting one thing comparable through the common season.

Mark Kelso, a defensive again for the Bills, wore what was called the ProCap through the second a part of his profession, incomes him the nickname the “Great Gazoo,” so named after the alien on “The Flintstones” with a head too giant for his tiny physique. While Kelso credited the cap with extending his NFL time, it by no means caught on in an period when the league downplayed the danger of head impacts.

Fast ahead to 2010, and the maker of the ProCap, Bert Strauss, approached chemical engineering firm Hanson Industries about making a helmet that integrated the smooth cap.

Erin Hanson, the co-founder together with her husband, Lee, of the eponymously named agency, determined there wouldn’t be a market as a result of it’d be too costly for youth and highschool groups to interchange their helmets. But she noticed a enterprise within the caps, and so the Hansons created Guardian Innovations.

Guardian launched the primary prototype on the January 2012 American Football Coaches Association commerce present. In 2017, the corporate gained $20,000 in funding by means of the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, which seeded promising security applied sciences. More funding got here within the type of NFL financing the testing at Biocore, a University of Virginia-related mechanical engineering laboratory that’s co-founded by Jeff Crandall, who chairs the NFL Engineering Committee.

A more moderen model of the cap needed to be developed for the scale of NFL gamers, and the testing adjusted to account for his or her speeds and higher impacts. The highschool model diminished in laboratory velocity influence by 33 %, reflecting the slower speeds of the youth sport, in line with Guardian.

“To get this kind of testing done is not cheap, certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the NFL certainly helped out,” Lee Hanson mentioned. Erin added, “Having the cooperation of the NFL to help us with the development and the testing has been huge.”

The Guardian cap will not be the primary protecting system to make its means onto an NFL area with league monetary assist. The Vicis helmet, which makes use of a softer shell, additionally acquired funding by means of the Head Health Challenge.

Jennifer Langton, the NFL’s senior vice chairman of Health and Safety Innovation, sees parallels with some gamers and coaches complaining in regards to the Guardian caps and the transfer to eradicate lower-performing helmets final decade.

“Change is difficult,” Langton mentioned. When the NFL started ranking helmets in 2015, it started banning headgear that underperformed, famously captured in Antonio Brown’s histrionics about having to surrender his beloved Schutt Air Advantage.

Plenty of gamers have expressed discontent with the caps since coaching camps opened. Eagles middle Jason Kelce seemingly mocked the Guardian caps, sporting bubble wrap on his helmet.

Seahawks tight finish Noah Fant mentioned, “I dislike them a lot. I know they’re NFL-mandated, so I’m not going to say too much. I’m not a fan of them, but some other people may be. I understand why, it’s just kind of bulky and I can see the little straps on my facemask and stuff which bothers me a little bit, but we’re going with it.”

Max Garcia, a Giants guard, mentioned, “Sometimes it can slide up and kind of get your vision. So I would say, you know, it just needs to be just a little bit sturdier.”

While the league promotes the 20 % velocity influence discount (each colliding gamers should put on the caps to attain this fee), that determine comes from testing at Biocore, not precise area play. Five groups final yr used the caps in observe. Asked if there was information evaluating these golf equipment’ concussion charges throughout coaching camp with others, the NFL declined to share the data.

The Hansons mentioned although clearly, the NFL wouldn’t have mandated the caps if the experiment final yr had not been profitable.

But Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, wrote in an electronic mail, “Any real-world gains may be offset by greater impacts due to the added weight of the cap, greater rotational acceleration due to greater size of the helmet apparatus, or a player receiving a greater number of impacts due to the greater size of their helmet. In addition, if the softer padding changes player behavior because they perceive they are safer, players might be worse off than before. The use of the caps should be monitored closely, and users should be aware the potential benefit is limited.”

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Giants defensive lineman Justin Ellis says the Guardian cap has had a optimistic impact for him. (John Jones / USA Today)

Tony Plagman, Guardian’s nationwide gross sales supervisor, countered that nobody claimed the caps had been a “magic pill,” however merely an additional layer of safety.

Giants offensive lineman Shane Lemieux rejected the idea expressed by Saleh and Nowinski that the cap might result in poor methods akin to main with the helmet. And he applauds the NFL for taking participant security severely.

“I love this game more than anything and I love that the NFL is doing research to help protect us more,” Lemieux mentioned. “Obviously, I want to stay as healthy as I can. Because this game, this game means the most to me, but at the end of the day, I want to walk away healthy.”

The Athletic’s Michael Shawn-Dugar, Zackary Rosenblatt and Matt Schneidman contributed.

(Top photograph of Browns tight finish David Njoku: Ken Blaze / USA Today)



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