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Odd Look, But Guardian Caps There To Protect Cardinals

Players trying to get used to new mandated shells

Defensive lineman J.J. Watt sports a Guardian Cap on his helmet at training camp. All linemen, linebackers and tight ends must wear the protective shell.
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt sports a Guardian Cap on his helmet at training camp. All linemen, linebackers and tight ends must wear the protective shell.

J.J. Watt wore a wry smile as he was asked about the new safety-first padded shells players now had to wear on the outside of their helmets for at least the first part of training camp.

They are called Guardian Caps, and they are hard to miss.

"I mean, I think you know what I think of the Guardian Caps," the veteran defensive lineman said. "You feel like a Bobblehead.

"I'll probably be fined for this. This is great."

Are the Cardinals embracing the look? "They ugly," linebacker Markus Golden said. But they also make sense as the league tries to find ways to minimize injuries, especially when there are only practices and not games that count.

"We're trying to protect those guys the best we can," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "The NFL does a great job of trying to progress in that area. Everybody is on board."

The resolution for players to wear the shells came in March, voted in by the NFL teams after a recommendation by the Competition Committee and the Owners' Health and Safety Advisory Committee.

The wear is required for offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers, and tight ends – the positions that see the most head contact. The Steelers, whose head coach Mike Tomlin, is one of the coaches on the Competition Committee, require all players to wear it.

Players must wear the Guardian Caps in all training camp practices up until the second preseason game.

"The recommendation of the Guardian Cap was an easy move," said Colts coach Frank Reich, another member of the Competition Committee. "The research continues to show the cumulative hits over the course of a long season, it matters. It was a strategic move to do it in training camp."

According to the league, the Guardian Cap results in at least a 10% reduction in severity of impact if one player is wearing it. That percentage doubles if both players in the impact are wearing them.

"My head is big anyway, adding that on," Golden said. "I looked at a picture and thought, 'They make my head look even bigger.' It looks funny, but if it helps us out, and that's what they say, that'll be cool."

Both Golden and Watt said they can tell they are on the helmet – it "feels way more heavy," Golden said – but both said they were getting used to it.

They were also getting used to the odd look.

"From the pretty boys like (Watt) and (Zach) Ertz, it hurts their swag level a little bit," Kingsbury quipped.

Not everyone has an issue -- guard Justin Pugh tweeted in part, "Let's laugh at how dumb we look but increase our chances of remembering our kids names" -- and whatever mild complaints Watt might have, he does understand the purpose of the Cap and why the league is making it mandatory.

"I'm not an idiot," Watt said with that same smile. "I may have worn no Guardian Cap for 12 years but I'm not that dumb. Of course I know."

That was the extent of his analysis. No reason to upset the league and potentially cost himself money.

"I'm not going to get too deep into this because I'm already 20 grand down," Watt said.

EXTRA POINT: The Cardinals were off Sunday. They return to practice Monday -- open to the public -- although Kingsbury said they wouldn't have their first padded practice until Tuesday.