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Panthers linemen hope new helmet padding helps reduce concussion risk

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SPARTANBURG — For the length of training camp, the Panthers have been encouraging players to take care of each other.

Wednesday, a couple of dozen of them decided to protect themselves a little better on the field.

A collection of 24 offensive and defensive linemen (and pass-rushers) took the practice field Wednesday morning wearing Guardian Cap padding over their helmets.

They obviously look different, like a large cauliflower or the Michelin Man's hat. But for the players who chose to wear them, the looks weren't the important thing.

"I liked them," rookie offensive lineman Brady Christensen said. "Anything to protect my brain a little bit more, I'm all in. I want to remember my kids' names when I'm 50."

Brian Burns

Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said that NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills presented data to teams this summer, which showed the benefit of added padding in reducing concussions.

And while there's increased research and vigilance when it comes to concussions from big hits (like the one suffered by wide receiver Keith Kirkwood Tuesday when he was blindsided in practice and landed on his back and head), larger players face a different hazard. With repeated collisions in shorter spaces, subconcussive impacts are an additional danger for linemen.

Rookie guard Deonte Brown said he wore had a similar product at Alabama, and he was perfectly comfortable wearing this one Wednesday.

"They're very protective, especially down in the trenches, banging heads every day," Brown said. "So it gives you an extra cushion so you can be safe."

Many college programs have been using those products and similar ones for years, and last year the NFL and NFLPA approved the device's use by linemen in practice.

The caps have been growing in popularity this summer, and Rhule said some of the team's veteran leaders sparked the decision to try them Wednesday.

Greg Little

"We presented it to the guys last year as an option; not a lot of guys took it," Rhule said. "This year, some of our leadership guys on the offensive and defensive line decided to try this out for our sake."

Because they're so much more common at the college level, it's no surprise that younger players were among the early adopters.

The foam pads are light, and flexible, and attach to the outside of their helmets with velcro straps.

One offensive lineman said it made it a little harder to snap his chin strap, and one defensive lineman acknowledged that they looked funny, but was willing to give it a try.

But Brown said it didn't bother him, as he carried his helmet and another veterans' to the locker room.

"I didn't really notice it when it was on," Christensen said.

The hope is that he doesn't notice anything wrong years from now either.

View photos from Wednesday's training camp practice at Wofford.

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