Hip pad

Hip pad (NFL photo / July 22, 2013)

The NFL has adopted a rule change for this season, mandating that all players except kickers and punters wear knee and thigh pads in games.

Now that the league has implemented the rule, players are adjusting to the change.

The idea behind the rule change was to upgrade player health and safety, create a level playing field in terms of competitive advantage, keep the NFL in line with all other levels of the sport where the pads are required, which includes NCAA football, and set an example for players at the youth level that wearing equipment is important, according to the league.

In the past, knee and thigh pads were mandatory from 1979 to 1994 before becoming an optional item in 1995.

"Safety has been a hallmark under Roger Goodell and this is a point of emphasis to make sure players have the best padding possible for that process," NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks told The Baltimore Sun. "It was mandated by ownership last year and we wanted to give the players a year to properly prepare and make lighter, stronger pads to adjust their padding for this year, and here we are. I think the main thing moving forward is that players have mandatory equipment, so it will be equity on the field.

"We certainly expect and hope that we minimize knee and thigh bruises. The pads are so much better than last year. We challenged our suppliers and licensees to submit their pads to the University of Virginia for a scientific test and came up with a number of different options for knee and thigh pads. The player has options for what suits him best and is lightest for him given their position."

Players have been reluctant in the past to wear knee and thigh pads.

Why? Because they worry that they won't be as fast as possible.

Hanks said that concern is unfounded.

"The only evidence I can offer is on film looking at scenarios and the Super Bowl champions, Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, were wearing knee pads in the Super Bowl," said Hanks, a retired four-time Pro Bowl San Francisco 49ers safety. "It didn't hinder them from winning the Lombardi Trophy. Adrian Peterson, the MVP of the league was wearing thigh and knee pads and he's running away from people. The argument tends to ring hollow. Plus, there's equity with every player outside of kickers and punters wearing them. Quite frankly, the film will support that it doesn't slow you down."

Players are given over 30 options of thigh pads, including compression shorts with the pads in them or regular pads inserted into the uniform pants.

Here's how the enforcement of the rule will work:

During warmups, NFL uniform inspectors will check to see if players are wearing the pads and inform a designated team person to relay the violation to the player.  During a game, uniform inspectors will inform the team, who tells the back judge during a stoppage in play, informing the referee, who tells the head coach the player is ineligible to play until the pad violation is corrected.

Why was the rule changed?

The NFL says enforcement had become problematic. Pads were bulkier, not as advanced as today's equipment.

The league strikes an upbeat stance that the transition will go well and be accepted by the players.

"We want to make this a smooth conversion," Hanks said. "Absolutely, it's a challenge for our athletes. Due to collective bargaining agreement limitations, there aren't as many training camp repetitions as in the past. Players have to gravitate toward certain sets of pads and get used to them."

awilson@baltsun.com

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