NFL’s new position-specific helmets, rule changes, COVID-19 rules, former player deaths

1 Comment

News, flotsam, jetsam of the NFL week

New Position-Specific Helmets

Player-safety history will be made in Week 1, with at least six NFL starters wearing the first position-specific helmet ever made. VICIS, the innovative Seattle-based helmet manufacturer, has invented a helmet designed for offensive and defensive linemen. It’s called the VICIS Zero2 Trench. If you watch the Saints-Packers closely Sunday, you’ll see the odd raised front-top of Green Bay right guard Lucas Patrick’s helmet. He’ll be one of the six scheduled to wear the Trench, designed to put additional streamlined padding at the lineman’s forehead and hairline, where the repetitive, play-after-play contact with the opposition happens most often.

“When I first saw the helmet last spring,” Patrick told me the other day, “I loved it, because it’s designed to mitigate those repetitive hits we always get. I got one brain. There’s a lot of smart people out there, but no one’s figure out how to do a brain transplant yet. I plan to play as long as I can, so I’m going to do everything I can to preserve the brain I have.”

All helmet manufacturers have been in a race to design position-specific helmets. VICIS vice president of product development Jason Neubauer said designing one for linemen first of all made the most sense. One, because of the volume of players; there are more offensive and defensive linemen than any position group or groups on the field. And two, because the hits to linemen happen in mostly the same place. “If you make a heat map of where the impacts are for lineman,” Neubauer told me, “they’d all be near the same place.” Front of helmet. And so VICIS installed light and pliable padding where linemen take the most punishment. The company emphasizes light-weight in its design, because players don’t want helmets any heavier than they already wear, and they also have the ability to snap in different thicknesses of padding in six areas at the front of the helmet. Some players want the padding harder, some softer; five different pad thicknesses are available. In addition, VICIS offers to custom-make the padding for NFL players, giving players a personal fit along the jaw and cheekbone.

Packers guard Lucas Patrick wore the Zero2 Trench helmet in a preseason game. (Getty Images)

The Zero2 Trench is the second-best performing helmet out of the 20 approved for player use by the NFL and NFL Players Association exam teams this year. Beginning two years ago, the NFL began to outlaw some low-performing helmets, and each year players get a new poster with the approved helmets

As of Friday, Neubauer said, 30 of 32 teams have ordered Trench helmets for their linemen, through there’s no guarantee they’ll all be used. Players are fickle with helmets. They’ll try out several kinds, even during the season, but sometimes not change. The change will come, Neubauer said, when players talk to players in locker rooms.

The Packers’ Patrick is bullish on this one. He said it feels slighter lighter than his former helmet, and the sightlines are just as good. He’s gotten some guff from opponents making fun of the distended helmet in the preseason, but he doesn’t care. “Those big collisions, I feel safer in this helmet,” Patrick said. “I’ve had a few in camp where you get those big hits, with the linebacker barreling down on me and we make solid contact, and before, I would really feel it. Now, I feel totally fine, like I was in pass-protection and nobody really hit me. So far, for me, it’s a great helmet.”

Designing helmets with different positions in mind is the next frontier for pro and college players. (The Trench has been sent to some major colleges this fall too.) The wide receiver and quarterback helmets, for instance, could be designed with extra padding at the back of the head, to prevent violent head hits on the ground.

Louis Riddick Is Okay

The EF-3 tornado you might have seen ravage a small southern New Jersey town, Mullica Hill, had an NFL angle. Former player and current Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick lives in Mullica Hill, about 25 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and he was home Wednesday when his son came to find him and said, “Dad, look outside.”

Riddick, two days later: “I’ve probably seen the movie ‘Twister’ eight or nine times. Seeing it in real life, you can see why people get mesmerized by a tornado. The power, the size, how random it is. My housing development is next to the one where it hit, where big, beautiful houses got flattened, destroyed.

“I saw roofs, chimneys, tires, trees floating, circling in the air above my head. Very wide. When I saw it coming, I yelled to the family, ‘Get in the basement!’ I should have gone, but I just couldn’t stop looking at it. It was coming toward us, then veered off a little bit toward this other neighborhood. The noise was amazing—a cross between a thunderstorm and 100 jets taking off at the same time, with everything shaking. There was maybe five, 10 minutes, at the most, where you could feel the intense power of it. Whole treelines got destroyed. Why are roofs flying through the air? The power of it, it’ll change you. Seeing how quickly your life, your house, your future, can be turned upside down in a matter of seconds. The neighborhood next to us, destroyed. And ours, spared. Literally, no damage. Literally, a couple of flower pots knocked over. That’s it.

“When it ended, I just realized how fortunate we are. You realize how grateful you should be for every day you have.

“That night, maybe 3 in the morning, I’m on the phone in my driveway, in the pitch dark. I think it’s like this incredible destructive thing came by, winked at me and said, ‘I’m gonna spare you today.’

“So man, I’m grateful today. Just grateful for every day we have.”

Art McNally Gets His Due 

The former field judge, referee, director of officiating and conscience of officiation (my words), who worked the NFL’s rules game for a half-century, was nominated as the 2022 contributor for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If he gets 80 percent of the vote from the 49 Hall voters when ballots are cast shortly before the Super Bowl next February, McNally will be the first on-field official in the 102-year history of the NFL to be enshrined. The NFL’s Sunday operations center officiating command center is called Art McNally GameDay Central.

Two reasons why McNally deserves this, and has deserved it for years. I’ve covered the NFL for 38 seasons now, and no single person in any aspect of the league has had more integrity than McNally. No one distrusted him, and I mean no one. That’s the most important thing for an official, and for an officiating department. Two: He modernized officiating. Starting in 1968, he installed a program to study and grade officials, using the same kind of film analysis that coaches used to evaluate player. He pushed for replay and other forms of technology (such as wireless microphones on refs) to make the game more transparent to fans and viewers). The people you see on TV explaining the rules today, led by Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino, think he’s the most important person in the history of NFL officiating.

Lots of contributors to the game—owners, officials, GMs—deserve consideration for the Hall, but none more than McNally. Good choice by the contributors subcommittee.

The Unnoticed Rule Change

The big rules change of the year will be the elimination of the low block. This has gotten zero attention this summer, but when you watch football this year, you’ll notice. You’ll see a corner move toward a ballcarrier in the open field, with a guard escorting the ballcarrier, and you’ll see the corner do a matador move and avoid all contact, and you’ll say, Whaaaat? It’s now illegal to block a man below the waist more than two yards outside the tackle or more than five yards on either side of the line of scrimmage. The intent is to eliminate chopping players at the knees, often at full speed. “The corners are going to have to use their athleticism to avoid those big linemen,” said Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, who is a proponent of the rule because of safety. One of his corners is not crazy about it. Said Patrick Peterson: “We’re really gonna get smashed now. Imagine a 315-pound guard lead-blocking and running right at us. We gotta literally just almost stand there and take it, or try to fake them out and get around them to the ballcarrier. But I think a few of us [cornerbacks] are going to get leveled.”

Two points to make: I think offenses will have a big advantage here, particularly in things like wide runs or the screen game. As one coach told me, “Third-down backs will love this rule. They’ll be able to get out on the edge and instead of getting six to eight yards, they might get 15 because the play can’t get blown up by the DB cutting the guard or tackle.” Also, it’ll be interesting to see how attentive officiating crews are to this rule. Watch the first two or three weeks, when it could get over-flagged to tell players on both sides, We’re serious about calling this, so cut out the low blocks.

RIP To Two

Tunch Ilkin. I don’t have one story about Ilkin, the former Steelers offensive lineman who died of ALS on Saturday at 62. I have 20. There was about a 12-year span or so, from maybe 2005 to 2018, when I’d have some Steelers question at various times—in training camp, during the season, before the draft, whenever—and I’d think, Gotta call Tunch. What I loved about his answers is they were long, they were on point, and they were honest. He walked the sunny side of the street with the Steelers, because he loved them and broadcasted for them, but he was unvarnished with me, always.

So much about Ilkin was admirable. Born in Istanbul, emigrated to Chicago with his parents at age 2, went to Indiana State at the time of Larry Bird, sixth-round pick of the Steelers, first Turkish player in NFL history, union rep for the Steelers when it wasn’t popular in western Pennsylvania to be a union rep for rich football players, joined the Steelers radio team with Bill Hillgrove and legendary Myron Cope. And this is where I found out about Ilkin the person. Cope was starting to be forgetful on the air around 2004, and you could barely notice the times Ilkin covered for him even though he did, and it was seamless. What a mensch, and what a good football analyst. The game, and everyone who loved the Steelers, will miss him.

Superbowl XXXVI X
Patriots wide receiver David Patten, at Super Bowl XXXVI in February 2002. (Getty Images)

David Patten. “Undrafted out of Western Carolina in 1996.” Imagine someone with that profile five years later doing something that hadn’t been done since Walter Payton did it: rush for a touchdown, catch a touchdown, throw for a touchdown in the same game. Then, in the Patriots’ first Super Bowl season, Patten scored the only offensive touchdown, on an eight-yard pass from Tom Brady, in the Pats’ first Super Bowl win ever. The essence of Patten, who died in a motorcycle crash in his native South Carolina last Thursday, was the essence of the early Patriots. “As much as anyone,” Bill Belichick said, “David epitomized the unheralded, self-made player who defied enormous odds to not only earn a job in the NFL but to become a key player on multiple championship teams.” Key player to put it mildly. He scored a touchdown in both the AFC title game against the Steelers and the Super Bowl against the Rams.

For The Record: Covid Rules

Here are the most important Covid rules you need to know for the season, with approximately 93 percent of NFL players fully vaccinated:

• Unvaccinated players who test positive for Covid are out and away from the team for 10 days. No exception.

• Unvaccinated players who are deemed close contacts with Covid-positive people are out and away from the team for five days. No exceptions.

• All vaccinated players will be tested every seven days, and once more per week if they choose. Weekly testing for the vaccinated will occur on either Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and will include all coaches and team officials who have close contacts with players.

• Vaccinated players who test positive can rejoin the team, if asymptomatic, by testing negative twice in tests separated by 24 hours. (Example: Vaxxed player tests positive. Goes home. No feeling any symptoms. Will test each day. The first time he has two consecutive negative tests, he’s allowed back as a full participant in team activities and games.) These players must get the approval of both chief medical officer Allen Sills and the team’s infection control officer.

• Vaccinated players who are deemed close contacts with Covid-positive people are not pulled out of team activities. They will be subject to daily testing and can remain as full participants in team activities and games.

Analyzing Bears sending No. 1 NFL draft pick to Panthers


This is the day NFL free agency begins, the day when agents and teams can legally begin to negotiate contracts that they’ve already been, you know, illegally negotiating. But a Molotov cocktail got thrown into the top 10 of the draft over the weekend, so that takes precedence this morning.

And well, that escalated quickly.

The top of the draft got turned upside-down by Ryan Poles and the desperado Carolina Panthers just after 5 Eastern Time Friday afternoon, six days after he told me it’d take a ransom for the Bears to deal the top overall pick.

Poles got a lot from Carolina for the top pick: the ninth and 61st overall picks this year, a first-round pick in 2024, a second-round pick in 2025, and the Panthers’ number one wideout, D.J. Moore, healthy and entering his age-26 season. Moore’s not a top-10 NFL receiver, but he’s certainly in the top 20, after three 1,000-yard years in his first five NFL seasons.

Minnesota Vikings v Carolina Panthers
(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Because the trade cannot be announced until Wednesday, the start of the 2023 league year, the Panthers and Bears were zipped up tight over the weekend. But I’ve gathered a few nuggets.

The prevailing wisdom: Chicago got enough for the pick, assuming D.J. Moore can be the primo receiver Justin Fields desperately needs. Carolina paid through the nose, and recent draft history is littered with lousy tradeups into the top five for quarterbacks who didn’t pan out (Robert Griffin III, Carson Wentz, Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Darnold). “If Carolina doesn’t pick the right quarterback, the trade’s a disaster,” said former NFL wheeler-dealer Jimmy Johnson.


This deal was not getting done without D.J. Moore in it. The Bears had a bottom-five group of wideouts in 2022, even after trading for Chase Claypool in midseason. Darnell Mooney, Claypool and Equanimeous St. Brown, as a group, weren’t going to give Fields his best chance to emerge as a quarterback and developing Fields is priority one for the ’23 Bears. The free-agency wideout crop is a D-minus, and unless Poles wanted to use his only pick in the top-50 on a receiver, Moore (or a number one receiver like him) was vital. Certainly Carolina didn’t want to deal one of its best five players, in his prime; in the span of six months, the Panthers have dealt their two best offensive players, Christian McCaffrey and Moore. But if they wanted to be sure of having their choice of quarterbacks come April 27, Moore had to be sacrificed.

I don’t think Carolina has decided which quarterback it wants. Of course the GM, Scott Fitterer, and scouts who’ve investigated quarterbacks have their leanings. Of course coach Frank Reich and his staff have their opinions after watching tape and meeting the passers at the Combine. But 45 days out from the first round, this isn’t a done deal. It wouldn’t be smart for it to be a done deal.

I’ve heard the same rumors everyone else has—that Frank Reich loves Florida QB Anthony Richardson. And he may be the pick. But I’m a bit skeptical. Nothing against Richardson, who is one of the most interesting QB prospects in the past few drafts. I wonder, though, about trading two first-round picks, two second-round picks and one of your five best players for a player with a high ceiling but with one year as a college starter. Trading to number one and choosing Richardson might turn out to be brilliant. But picking Richardson number one after dealing five prime pieces for him is a major risk.

However, if Richardson become The Guy, I expect Carolina to consider a minor trade-down. This would be tricky. When teams make draft trades, the team trading up doesn’t usually admit who the player target is. In this case, the Panthers, if trading from one to, say, Houston at two, would have to be assured the Texans weren’t taking the quarterback Carolina wants. That would require some trust, obviously. Going much beyond two would be a chancy venture.

Reich has never coached a short quarterback, and Bryce Young is 5-10. Is that meaningful? I give it a little weight. In Reich’s 17 years as a quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator or head coach, his starting quarterbacks in Indianapolis, Arizona, San Diego, Philadelphia and Indianapolis (again) have been 6-6 (Nick Foles, John Skelton), 6-5 (Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Rivers again, Wentz again), 6-4 (Curtis Painter, Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Ryan), 6-3 (Ryan Lindley) and 6-2 (Sam Ehlinger). The 6-3 and 6-2 guys totaled six starts, and I suspect that starting Ehlinger twice in Reich’s last two games in Indy was not Reich’s idea. So in 17 years, all but six games Reich coached were started by quarterbacks 6-4 and taller. Reich’s a traditionalist. He played in an era with big quarterbacks. To stake the future of the franchise on a great player, but a 5-10 player, would be unconventional for him. However, Fitterer comes from Seattle, where the 5-10-ish Russell Wilson was a major outlier for a decade. Young has gotten rave reviews for his football smarts, and just finished two years with a demanding NFL QB teacher, Bill O’Brien, at Alabama. So never say never about the short QB.

One other thing about Bryce Young that Reich and his staff will love and could sway them toward a 5-10 QB. There probably wasn’t a quarterback in college football last year who was as smart and resourceful as Young. Case in point: On most snaps at Alabama, Young called two plays in the huddle and decided which to use—himself, not with a signal from the sidelines—once he read the defense at the line. “That’s very NFL,” said one league quarterback authority who has studied Young. “I think that’s one of the reasons his height isn’t as big a deal as it might be—he’s dealt with figuring out the right play all the time based on what he sees from the defense, and I’m sure he factors in not getting in traffic with a bunch of 6-5 guys.” Two other points to consider about Young: He didn’t have many balls batted down. And Reich is not an inflexible person—if he thinks Young’s markedly the best prospect, he’ll be good taking him.

Does Young’s size mean 6-3 C.J. Stroud has the best chance to be the pick? Two veteran front-office people I spoke with Saturday think Stroud makes the most sense, but those two men are not making this call. Stroud did play the single-most impressive game of any of the four first-round prospects (including Kentucky’s Will Levis) this year—putting up 41 points on Georgia in the college playoffs, throwing for 348 yards with four TDs and no interceptions—so that counts for something.

Where is Chicago left? My column last week focused heavily on the Bears, and now that the deal’s been done, Poles faces a few truths. He knows he needs to bulk up on the offensive line; he has the cap room (a league-high $69.9-million in effective cap space, per to afford one of the top three tackles in free-agency—Orlando Brown, Mike McGlinchey or Kaleb McGary. Re the draft: Being at nine takes him out of the ballgame for the best pass-rusher, Will Anderson of Alabama, and likely puts number two edge player Tyree Wilson of Texas Tech out of range. But the top offensive-line prospect, Peter Skoronski of Northwestern, could be there at nine. Poles could be smartest spending on one tackle in free agency, and one defensive linemen—Dre’Mont Jones or the pricey Javon Hargrave, or perhaps Frank Clark to beef up the pass-rush.

It’s amazing how different the Bears could look come training camp. Imagine Fields throwing to D.J. Moore outside or in the slot, with Brown protecting his blind side, and Skoronski plugged in either at guard or tackle as a day-one starter. Imagine Jones and Clark buttressing a needy defensive line. That’s all fantasy football, of course, but Poles has the cap room and draft picks (9, 53, 61, 64 overall) to make some plug-and-play decisions between now and May 1.

Re Carolina: Anyone who scouts the quarterbacks comes away thinking Young and Stroud are good candidates for the top pick. The game has changed in the past few years. If you love Young the most, you’re going to deploy an offense that’s 97-percent in shotgun and let him be the smart guy at the line he was at Alabama. Stroud showed the ability to drive the football with confidence; clearly, he’ll be able to make every NFL throw, and he’s afraid of nothing. But then there’s Richardson. It’s certainly possible in the next six weeks the Panthers could talk themselves into the versatile Florida quarterback with the great arm and 80- and 81-yard college TD runs.

I wish I could tell you a good gut feel on who Carolina will pick, but I can’t. As I say, I’m sure those who will collaborate to make the pick have leanings today. Leanings can change in 45 days.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column

Dolphins make statement with Jalen Ramsey trade


Jalen Ramsey to the Dolphins made too much sense, for both Miami and the Rams. It happened Sunday afternoon. We should have seen it coming for weeks.

The trade—Ramsey to Miami for a mid-third-round pick, 77th overall, and an invisible tight end from the 2021 third round, Hunter Long—seems light for the Rams. And it is, but the market for a cornerback entering his age-29 season who wants a contract extension and who gave up 65-percent completions to his man in coverage last year wasn’t as robust as the Rams had hoped. There was also the matter of Ramsey wanting to go to Miami.

The Dolphins are all-in for 2023. The Rams are all-in for 2025. It’s now officially official: L.A. is a bleep-them-picks franchise no longer, and will build for the future with their 11 picks this April.

Miami will contend if Tua Tagovailoa can stay on the field most or all of the regular season. That’s a certainty. But this deal is an admission the Dolphins won’t be a title team without major improvement on defense. The new coordinator, Vic Fangio, is piece one of the rebuild. Ramsey is an important second piece. The Dolphins in 2022 allowed 113 more points (one TD per game) than the Bills and had interceptions in just five of 17 games. The pricy free-agent cornerback from 2021, Byron Jones, may be too injured to count on. If Aaron Rodgers signs with the Jets and if Lamar Jackson plays with Baltimore, Miami will have nine games in 2023 against premier quarterbacks: Josh Allen and Rodgers (two each), with one against Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, Jackson and Dak Prescott. Ramsey and Xavien Howard should be a formidable cover duo in Fangio’s new defense.

The Rams are going to build through the draft for the foreseeable future, reversing course from the Super Bowl LVI title team. In the last two years, they’ve had one pick in the top 100, total. This year they’ve got three in the top 77 (36, 69 and 77, and I would look for GM Les Snead to try to swap the 36th overall for two or three picks). Long has done zero in two years for two head coaches in Miami, so I wouldn’t count much on him.

Two teams traveling different roads, both using present-day logic. This weekend of big transition will continue with the first week of the new league year and more transition.

Read more in Peter King’s full Football Morning in America column