A look at the NFL’s ongoing safety experiment to reduce head injuries.

D’Vonte Price of the Indianapolis Colts runs a drill during training camp on Tuesday. During training camp, NFL players are wearing Guardian Caps on their helmets as part of an ongoing safety experiment that the league hopes will result in fewer head injuries.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

The expanded use of the padded helmet caps seen on NFL players during training camps this summer is part of the league’s safety experiments to reduce head injuries.

All offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, and tight ends must wear the Guardian Caps during practices and games until the second preseason game. This period of the season has the highest concentration of helmet impacts, according to NFL research. The caps were tested by several NFL teams last year, and the league’s competition committee mandated that all teams use them this summer. The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, told The Associated Press that the league will analyze data from training camp practices and review feedback from all 32 teams to determine the impact of the shells on reducing head trauma and to inform future health and safety efforts. Here’s an overview of the Guardian Caps and their application in the NFL: HEADGEAR THAT IS UNIQUE The model seen on college and high school football fields is not the same as the model seen at NFL training camps. It’s made to withstand the larger impacts of faster, stronger players in the pros. The Guardian Caps have a 12-ounce padded shell that attaches to the top of the player’s helmet. According to the NFL, studies show that when one player wears protective gear, the severity of the impact is reduced by at least 10%. If both players in a collision are wearing them, the percentage rises to at least 20%. EFFECTIVENESS? During the preseason, the league will review feedback “from players, coaches, and equipment managers about what they felt, what their perception was with the caps,” according to Sills, and will study concussion data. Sills believes that using the equipment during training camps could help reduce head injuries during the season when the Guardian Caps are no longer required. “Not absorbing as many blows during training camp should be beneficial in terms of reducing concussion vulnerability later in the season,” the league’s chief medical officer said. ARE THERE OTHER SAFETY TESTS? The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Atlanta Falcons, and Philadelphia Eagles are among four teams taking part in a program that uses high-tech mouth guard sensors to collect kinematic data such as impact speed, direction, force, location, and severity of hits. Sills explained that this research complements the Guardian Caps. “We have a subset of players from four teams who are wearing mouth guards with sensors. And we can actually measure how much force is transmitted inside the helmet. So we’ll have information on that group of players “Sills stated. The mouth guard program, according to the doctor, will continue after the Guardian Caps trial, allowing for a comparison of helmet impacts with and without the caps. ARE THERE ANY SKEPTISM? There is one. Some NFL players and coaches, including New York Jets Coach Robert Saleh, have expressed doubts about the caps’ effectiveness. Chris Nowinski, co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, is also skeptical that the Guardian Caps will help prevent brain trauma. “The reality is that a 10% reduction (in impacts) as a best-case scenario 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.” PLAYERS THOUGHTS? 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. 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.” Denver Broncos inside linebacker Josey Jewell takes part in drills during the NFL football team’s training camp Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, at the team’s headquarters in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles stretches during the NFL football team’s training camp Friday, July 29, 2022,in Centennial, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)