As teams start to ramp up their offseason workouts ahead of training camp, many players will be seen sporting an extra piece of head protection for the first time.
With the start of minicamps this week came the first appearances of the new Guardian Cap, an extra soft-shell pad worn over players' helmets that was designed to decrease the amount of force received from head contact and hopefully lower the number of concussion injuries usually seen during the lead-up to the season.
The NFL passed a resolution requiring the use of the Guardian Caps during the Annual League Meeting in March, mandating that they must be worn by players at certain positions during the period of time between the start of training camp and the second preseason game. The NFL says that the caps can reduce the force from head contact by 10% if one player is wearing it, and 20% if all players involved are wearing them. This is a significant move in the NFL's efforts to decrease avoidable head contact, which can lead to concussions and other head injuries.
While training camps don't start until late July, some teams have already started wearing the caps during OTAs and minicamps.
The caps are specifically being required between training camp and the second preseason game because a higher frequency of concussions happen during this time. This can be partially attributed to the higher number of players on the field as teams try out players ahead of final cuts, and partially to the start of full-contact practices during training camps.
Currently, the mandate says that only linemen, tight ends and linebackers are required to wear the helmets, as they do the most hitting during those full-contact training camp practices. But some teams could choose to have more positions wearing them, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers. During their mandatory minicamp starting Tuesday, all players were seen wearing the soft-shell padding.
"It’s for their safety," coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday of the decision, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We don't run away from those things. We run to those things. We're going to make it a non-issue for us. It's about the work that we do."