Panthers players among those trying ‘Guardian Caps’

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 27, 2021

By Steve Reed

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE — For Carolina Panthers rookie offensive lineman Brady Christensen any chance to protect his brain is a no-brainer — even if he thinks he may look a little goofy doing so.

That’s why Christensen is among a growing number of NFL players taking advantage of the new “Guardian Caps,” a soft-shell cover that retrofits to the top of the helmet to reduce impact and limit head injuries.

Sure, it’s a little strange at first, like wearing a small pillow on top of your head.

But NFL players seem to be taking to it at practice.

“Anything to protect my brain a little bit more, I’m all in,” Christensen said. “I want to remember my kids’ names when I’m 50.”

The Jacksonville Jaguars first experimented with the Guardian Caps in practice last year after the product received temporary approval from the NFL and the NFL Players Association. This year, 23 teams purchased the caps before the season for players to try out and five are actively using them: the Panthers, Bills, Dolphins, Bears and Rams. More than 100 players, mostly linemen, are using the caps, according to Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of communications for public affairs and policy.

“We are always on the lookout for ways to make the game safer for our players,” Miller said. “And will explore anything that will improve the health and safety of our athletes. … This will dampen the force of some of those hits that they take to the helmet.”

The caps are only allowed in practice and cannot be worn in games. But Miller wouldn’t rule out players wearing them on game day in the future.

Buffalo Bills center Mitch Morse joked that when he first tried on the cap he felt like a character in a Halo video game.

“You got people giving you hell, your family being like ‘what the hell is this?’ ” Morse said with a laugh.

Morse said at first his neck was a little sore from wearing the caps, but he’s grown to like the added protection.

“It’s something that I’m very comfortable with and then we tried it on and, of course, we gave each other hell for how it looks,” Morse said. “But then after one practice, I looked at (Bills defensive lineman) Justin Zimmer, I’m like ‘man, I know we were getting after it, and I didn’t feel anything.’ ”

Through extensive testing at the Biocore laboratories of Charlottesville, Virginia, the NFL believes the caps reduce the severity of impact blows to the head by about 10%. Currently, more than 200 colleges are using them and more than 1,500 high schools and 500 youth programs also use the caps.

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