Some players have complained about the new Guardian Caps, foam helmet coverings that are mandatory at practice through the first two preseason games. On Saturday, Robert Saleh of the Jets became the first head coach to express a public concern.
“I think the spirit of it all is really good, it’s got great benefits,” Saleh said after practice, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, “but I do think there’s a balance in everything, right? Too much of anything is a bad thing.”
He’s concerned that players will get in the habit of using their heads more than they otherwise would, given that the Guardian Cap eases the impact.
“I do think because of the soft blow, it’s kind of lending the players to use their heads a little bit more,” Saleh said. “I do think the first time when they take it off — anybody who has played football knows the first time you take your helmet off or you hit with the helmet or you have a collision, there’s a shock. I do think that if you’re waiting until the first game for that shock to happen. . . . I don’t know, time will tell. It’s just interesting with those Guardian Caps and what exactly are we trying to accomplish.”
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s Chief Medical Officer, responded in a statement provided to Cimini.
“The brain does not acclimate to head impacts,” Sills said. “The Guardian Cap helps mitigate those forces at a time of the season when we see the greatest concentration of them.”
That’s the purpose of the equipment change. To minimize brain injuries that otherwise would happen during early-preseason practices. Saleh’s question is whether it will induce bad habits that will set the stage for more brain injuries once the Guardian Caps are removed.
It’s a fair question, but it’s probably not the type of thing the powers-that-be will appreciate. The league made the change, and the league believes in the approach. If the data eventually supports Saleh’s theory, that’s a different issue. For now, though, the league surely prefers that coaches buy in to the Guardian Caps, so that players will, too.
And Saleh’s comments likely will be enough to result in some sort of memo being sent by the league office to all teams instructing coaches, executives, and owners to not say anything publicly that undermines the Guardian Cap project.