Opinions Vary on Knee and Thigh Pads

The league made them mandatory for 2013 — and also changed the helmets for 2012, says recently-signed CB Drayton Florence.

Drayton Florence

The NFL's ever-evolving rules have given Drayton Florence and other defenders much to ponder. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / MAXDENVER.COM)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Will the NFL’s decision to make knee and thigh pads mandatory by the 2013 season represent a mere shuffling of deck chairs? Or can it actually help reduce head trauma by limiting direct knee-to-helmet contact?

“I don’t know what to tell you on that,” defensive tackle Justin Bannan said. “I think if I’m falling down and my head’s hitting somebody in the knee or the thigh, whether he’s got a pad on or not, there’s a good chance I’m going to get a concussion on that. So I don’t know.

“I think if you’re going to have an injury happen, a knee pad or thigh pad, it’s not going to save you … I’ve had a thigh pad on and gotten just as deep a thigh bruise as you can have with the thigh pad on.”

Not everyone feels the same way.

“Oh, I’m a believer. I’ve been wearing them (knee and thigh pads) since my rookie year,” Porter said. “Generally those guys (defensive backs), they aren’t too much worried about getting in the thigh, getting hit in the knee.”

Porter acknowledged that his affinity for knee and thigh pads places him in the minority.

“A lot of the guys, they’re frowning upon it because they don’t like wearing the thigh or the knee pads,” he said. “But much like wearing shoulder pads and a helmet, it’s a rule of the league and you have to do it.

“Some guys are superstitious to saying that wearing the thigh pads or the knee pads slows them down, but for the most part, man, I think it’s a myth,” Porter said. “I still feel pretty fast when I’m out there with thigh and knee pads.”

Florence isn’t a fan of the pads.

“The thigh pads, my opinion, I don’t want to wear them, but you’ve got to follow the rules and policy,” he said. “I just think that’s a way to cover them as far as things that have been going on in the past.

“I know they tried to make hip pads mandatory, also,” he continued. “It really doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. I’m glad I’m not playing in the days where they wore leather helmets.”

But those are changing, too, Florence said. The good news? They’ll be better padded. The bad news?

“Well, they’re a lot bigger,” Florence said. “The design of them is different — concussion prevention. The material inside of them is different … I’ve been used to a certain helmet. The helmet I’ve been wearing my whole career is a lot different than the new style.”

Florence said he wore the same type of helmet for 15 years, and that Champ Bailey had worn his for longer. That has to change.

“It feels big; it feels bulky,” Florence said. “But I’ve still got to go out and cover guys. It doesn’t matter what I’m wearing.”

That fundamental part of the sport hasn’t changed, even though there have been tweaks to how much contact is allowed over the years. But where most rules changes for decades were in the name of enhancing game play, the recent alterations are all about trying to curb the potential for long-term neurological damage that has become evident in an alarming total former NFL players.

“How do we come so far on safety and not ruin the integrity of the game?” Bannan said. “I think it’s a fine line we’re going to walk.”

How the league walks that line is crucial. No less than the future of the sport is at stake.


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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.

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