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More NFL players are likely to wear sensors that assess head impact in games this season as the league and the NFL Players Association expand a project proponents hope will help them tackle the concussion issue.
Kevin Guskiewicz, a University of North Carolina researcher and member of league and union safety committees, told USA TODAY Sports two companies are fine-tuning their head accelerometer devices based on researchers' feedback in anticipation of wider deployment this fall, with expansion to all 32 teams possible by as soon as 2015.
"We need a sample of these players across all positions and studying every play type possible," Guskiewicz said by phone Sunday. "So that's the next step. Then I hope from there that, if we find (the devices) have utility that could actually help an individual player ... my hope would be that we would go leaguewide."
Two NFL teams participated in a pilot project for half of the 2013 season that focused in large part on logistics, Guskiewicz said. The next phase is to find the best technology for assessing head impact biomechanics and to collect data that answer questions about potential rule changes that could improve player safety, along with improved equipment design and altered behavior.
The expansion of the sensor project still needs sign-offs from the league and union, Guskiewicz said, adding he couldn't reveal further details until that happens. It would be a good-faith gesture that both sides are serious about confronting the concussion problem, which has become a dark cloud hovering over the nation's most popular sport.
Congress questioned Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith about the issue in 2009. Last August, the NFL reached a tentative $765million class action settlement over concussion-related brain injuries -- a deal that remains on hold because a federal judge has questioned whether there's enough money for 20,000 retired players.
Head accelerometers don't diagnose concussions. They assess frequency, location and magnitude of impact, providing more information for researchers and teaching tools for coaches, who can match video to data and encourage high-risk players to change the way they play.
"We've done a lot of validation work over the past 18 to 24months using some of these devices," said Guskiewicz, who has been a member of the NFL's head, neck and spine committee and the NFLPA's Mackey-White committee since 2010.
"It's really important that we know what the information is telling us and how to interpret it and how we can provide meaningful data back to the player, the athletic trainer or the team physician, the strength and conditioning coach, whoever that may be."