“It’s different not having to go out there twice a day, which is really nice,” Baltimore Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said here last week, shortly after he stepped off the practice field. “I think we’ll really see the effects during the season. I think during the season, halfway through, we’ll see the benefits from it.”
The new rules are primarily an attempt to curb the rate and severity of concussions suffered by players by reducing the number of blows to the head players absorb over the course of a year. Offseason workouts have been restricted and hitting has been limited in practices during training camp and the regular season. The longtime training camp staple of “two-a-days,” or two full-contact practices on the same day, has been eliminated.
More broadly, the rules are intended to reduce the overall wear and tear on players’ bodies and limit injuries. But the primary goal is to help players avoid concussions and the possible long-term health consequences that many medical experts associate with them.
Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said the players “made probably the biggest step in health and safety in the history of collective bargaining” by negotiating the new rules with the league.
“The hits have been reduced and the players will be safer from that,” Foxworth said last week. “As the progression goes and we learn the flaws in this system, it will be on us to correct them as we go forward. But I don’t really see any [problems] just yet.”
Under the new rules, a team can have one preseason practice per day, as long as three hours, with hitting permitted. Players wear helmets and full pads, or substitute lighter protective “shells” for full pads when a coach chooses to have a less intense practice.
Players also can be on the field for a one-hour walk-through each day, without hitting. Players must be given one day off per week.
The rules also limit each team to 14 practices in full pads during the regular season, 11 of which must come in the first 11 weeks of the 17-week season. Teams’ offseason programs have been reduced from 14 weeks to nine. The number of offseason organized team activities, or OTAs, have been reduced from 14 to 10.
Thom Mayer, medical director of the NFL Players Association, said the union’s goal was to reduce players’ exposure to practice-field blows to the head by by 20 to 25 percent.
Mayer said last week he suspects the reductions in hitting from the new rules are “going to be in that zip code,” and added: “From the medical side, we didn’t let the perfect get in the way of the very good. I think we’ve got a great program here, a solid baseline for the care of the players.”
Mayer and other medical experts said that because so much is unknown about the causes of concussions, it is impossible to make precise predictions about the new rules’ effects. NFL players reported suffering 261 concussions last season, according to a league spokesperson.