ATLANTA -- The NFL is likely to make recommendations to its teams this summer to tweak training camp schedules in an attempt to reduce the number of helmet hits suffered in the early days of camp.
The idea to give players a few additional days to work on technique before full-contact practices begin in camp sprang from a meeting of coaches, league officials, game officials, current and former players and NFL Players Association officials that was focused on how to make the game safer for offensive and defensive linemen. Coaches indicated that they did not have enough time to teach proper technique, particularly to young players, with only a handful of practice days before full-contact padded practices begin in training camp. Technique often suffers then as inexperienced players battle under intense conditions for roster spots.
Video review of games indicates that linemen suffer more head impacts than other positions, including the repetitive hits that do not lead to concussions but whose accumulation is a source of concern. And the NFL's own concussion data shows that while the number of concussions declined dramatically this season, the number of concussions suffered in the two weeks of training camp before preseason games begin did not change at all. That has long been a vexing problem for the NFL.
"This is not punting to 2020," said Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations. "How do we modify what this looks like this July? We have the data to support that we have to make changes. The data doesn't lie. The data has been very consistent."
The NFL would not make a rule change now, but instead propose a handshake agreement among teams to abide by new guidelines. But the changes to practice schedules could be part of the next collective bargaining agreement. According to Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, the league's negotiating committee has already talked about a proposal to eliminated an organized team activity session during the offseason and attach those days to the start of training camp instead, so that players would be working the same number of days, but coaches would have more uninterrupted time with players.
Among the other recommendations that could emerge from this meeting is the elimination of certain drills -- like the Oklahoma drill -- that often lead to helmet contact but which even coaches agree are no longer an effective way to teach line play. Several coaches at the meeting, including Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Redskins offensive line coach Bill Callahan, said some coaching methods would have to change in a bid to better protect players.
The NFL expects to have even better data in coming years. Tiny sensors will soon be placed in mouthguards -- it is expected every team will have them for the 2020 season -- that will measure the number and severity of head impacts for every player.