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Copyright 2018 The Florida Times-Union

Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville)


By its own count, the National Football League has made 49 rule changes since 2002 to make its game safer.

Most recently the NFL broadened its helmet-hit rule for the 2018 season and will penalize players who lead with the crown of their helmets to initiate on any play. That change came in response to a six-year high of 281 player concussions during the 2017 season. That was up from 243 in 2016.

"We think the amount of concussions is a call of action and we don't think it's acceptable,'' said Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer. ''So we went back and looked long and hard at what interventions we could make immediately that could bring that down."

Among the players suffering concussions last season was Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith, who sustained his injury during a Week 12 game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Smith was cleared to return to play in the second quarter, went back into the game just before halftime, experienced concussion symptoms at halftime, and then was diagnosed with a concussion and held out. It forced him to miss two weeks, including a key game against Seattle. He said back then that he didn't mind.

"Personally, I want to live a long time and I want to play this game a long time."

Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said he too doesn't want any long-term health problems caused from repetitive head trauma after he walks away from the game.

"I love the game of football; it's a beautiful game,'' said Campbell, who will be entering his 11th NFL season when camp opens in late July. "One day I plan hopefully to have kids and if they want to play football I'm all for it. But making it safer is important for all of our sake.''

Still, despite all the rules changes, missteps were apparent in how the NFL's concussion protocol was applied in several situations during the 2017 season.

In one, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson did not immediately go through the appropriate concussion-protocol procedures after he took a hit to the chin during a Nov. 9 game against the Arizona Cardinals, exposing the Seahawks star to further injury. The NFL fined the Seahawks $100,000 for not following policy.

Another ugly incident occurred in Week 14, when Houston Texans quarterback Tom Savage was allowed to return to the field after a hit left him on the ground with his arms shaking.


As a result of both incidents, the league promptly made more changes. An unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant is now required to be at the league's command center to monitor feeds of all games and can contact the team medical staff on the sidelines if they see anything that warrants further evaluation. In addition, any player who show signs of a seizure, as Savage did, must be removed from the game and cannot return.

The broadening of the helmet-hit rule came at the annual owners meeting held last month in Orlando.

Under the previous rule, only the players who made contact with the crown of the helmet were penalized. Now any player — including offensive linemen, quarterbacks and running backs — who lowers his head to deliver a hit will draw a 15-yard penalty and face possible ejection.

''Our focus is how to take the head out of the game and make sure we're using the helmet as protection and it's not being used as a weapon.'' NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during the meetings. ''There is a great deal of communication, education that still need to take place. We'll be doing that over the next 90 days, including going to each club and having players, coaches, medical staff, all hands on deck to be able to go through the changes and make sure everyone is fully aware of them.''

After the league announced its new helmet-hit rule, Washington Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger took to Twitter and posted, ''This obviously not football anymore. The game we love getting destroyed every day. This is what we signed up for - period.''

Cleveland Browns linebacker Tank Carder posted: ''These rules are getting out of hand. I wonder when they realize they are going to have to change the name of the sport.''

Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack said the new helmet-hit rule could potentially compromise the aggression of the game, particularly for defensive players.

"I don't think you should taper it off because you are taking away from the play itself,'' Jack said. "But it's just something we're going have to bite the bullet on."


According to an ESPN report, kickoffs may become a thing of the past because the league's medical staff said concussions are five times more likely to happen on kickoffs than plays from scrimmage. Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy, a member of the NFL competition committee, told ESPN that if changes aren't made to make kickoffs safer, they will be eliminated.

"They're doing everything they can to make it safe as possible,'' Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said. ''There are old-school guys that kind of view it as making the game soft. I think if you can do it (tackle) the right way, I think that benefits everybody."

Meanwhile, more emphasis is being placed on helmet technology. Earlier this month the NFL banned 10 helmet models that performed poorly in its annual testing procedures.

According to ESPN, approximately 200 NFL players last season wore one of the underperforming models from Rawlings, Schutt, SG Helmets and Riddell. Those helmets will begin to be phased out starting this season.

Ranking at the top of the testing for the second-consecutive year was the Zero1 model from VICIS, a Seattle-based company. VICIS co-founder Sam Browd, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Seattle's Children's Hospital, said the material in the helmets absorbs on impact by its column structure.

Ponte Vedra will be one of the first high school football teams in the nation to wear the new helmets in the 2018 season.

"We came up with a helmet that's reducing the force as much as it can before it's transmitted to the skull and ultimately to the brain,'' Browd said. ''We designed this helmet from scratch. This has been a four-year, $50 million development.''

Sixty-five NFL players wore the VICIS helmet last season, including Seattle quarterback Wilson and Houston defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

The NFL's chief medical officer, Allen Sills, predicts NFL players could be wearing position-specific helmets within three to five years. He says it's just one step of many needed to reduce head injuries.

"Certainly, we're disappointed that the concussion numbers are up,'' Sills said. "It is something which challenges us now to roll up our sleeves and continue to work hard to see that number come down."

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April 30, 2018


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