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NFL camps open

As the threat of concussions grows, NFL teams may opt for less hitting on the practice field

Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, is among those considering whether a decrease in on-field practices will lead to fewer concussions among players. "When you start to have this discussion about player safety, I think all things should be on the table at the start," McKay said.
Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, is among those considering whether a decrease in on-field practices will lead to fewer concussions among players. "When you start to have this discussion about player safety, I think all things should be on the table at the start," McKay said. (Ross D. Franklin/associated Press)

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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 25, 2010

A s NFL teams open their training camps over the next week, players are resuming the summer tradition of slamming into one another in bids to impress coaches and earn roster spots.

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Fans may want to see it now, because those practice field collisions could become increasingly rare as soon as next year.

NFL practice routines are likely to be overhauled as the league and the players' union turn their attention to reducing practice-field hitting in an effort to curb the number of concussions sustained by players.

"I don't know exactly what the timetable will be," said Thom Mayer, medical director of the NFL Players Association. "I've been consistent in telling the league if we're serious about reducing concussions, a 20 to 25 percent reduction in concussion-prone incidents is necessary."

While modifications appear inevitable, the specifics remain to be worked out. But Mayer said the changes are likely to reflect some experts' belief that players face harm from repeated minor shots to the helmet as well as severe hits that result in concussions.

Changes would affect offseason and regular season practices, as well as training camp.

"When you start to have this discussion about player safety, I think all things should be on the table at the start," said Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay, co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee. "You have to take the medical data, the considerations about the enhanced season and everything else, and see what works. What the final answers are, I don't know."

The discussions come as the league and union negotiate a possible 18-game regular season, a move that also would alter practice schedules.

The NFL has been criticized by some medical experts and Capitol Hill lawmakers in recent years for its handling of player head injuries. But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed a series of concussion-related measures last season. He banned a player who suffers a concussion or shows symptoms of one from re-entering a game or rejoining a practice. And he required that a player who suffers a concussion be cleared by an independent physician before participating in another practice or game.

In the offseason, the rule-making competition committee extended protections during games for "defenseless" players, and Goodell has said more changes are likely. Former coach and broadcaster John Madden is overseeing a coaches' committee that is studying safety issues.

The league and union have had discussions about reducing the number of offseason practices and limiting hitting in some practices during training camp and the regular season.

On Friday, the NFL sent teams the results of a study of 16 helmets, three of which researchers concluded had performed best in laboratory tests simulating the forces of open-field collisions associated with concussions. But players are free to wear any certified helmet. The study, conducted by two independent labs, was sponsored by the league and supported by the union. "One area where we don't have a difference is player safety," said Jeff Pash, the NFL's executive vice president of labor.


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