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NFL teams share data with the NCAA to make the sport safer

NFL executive VP of health and safety initiatives Jeff Miller: “This was probably the most significant, formal interaction that we’ve had with the NCAA on health and safety issues . . .” David J. Phillip/Associated Press/Associated Press

The top medical personnel from the NFL and NCAA always meet every February at the Combine to discuss injury prevention and provide updates to the latest rules and protocols. But both organizations know that more needs to be done to advance the health and safety of the sport of football.

The NFL and NCAA held its biggest summit yet last week, a two-day meeting at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. It included the chief medical officers from both the NFL and NCAA, plus team physicians and athletic trainers from almost every school in the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. The goal was to share data and information collected by each enterprise on concussions, injury prevention, mental health, equipment innovations, and more.


“There’s, really, an existential threat on football. Let’s face it, youth football is under serious threats right now,” said Dr. Brian Hainline, the NCAA’s chief medical officer since 2013. “If the NCAA and the NFL can get together and say, ‘Look, let’s really focus on safety on this level,’ I think it can also have an impact on high school and youth football.”

While the NFL and NCAA have taken several steps to make football safer in recent years, they have not done so in concert. But Hainline and Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, are longtime colleagues and hope to begin more collaboration. And some of the studies that each side has been working on are now a few years old and have results that can be shared.

“We’re doing research that’s different than what they do, and they’re doing research that’s different than what we do,” Hainline said Friday. “The purpose of this meeting wasn’t to change rules so much. It was to say, ‘What do you all have and what do we all have,’ and really to help the physicians and athletic trainers understand the landscape better. We just want to be able to demonstrate that we have a lot to learn from each other.”


Added Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive VP of health and safety initiatives: “This was probably the most significant, formal interaction that we’ve had with the NCAA on health and safety issues, where we could learn from the work that they’re doing and share with them the work that we’re doing, and compare notes.”

The NFL’s side came to the summit armed with their player-safety research from the past few years. This includes testing helmet impacts, and also testing cleats and how they perform on grass and synthetic turf in regards to lower extremity injuries (torn ACLs and so forth). Over the last few years the NFL has banned certain helmets and cleats that didn’t meet their testing standards.

“That was a point of particular interest to the schools in attendance, to learn how we did that analysis and the application of it,” Miller said. “I think there are substantial opportunities there going forward, because there are so many programs at the NCAA level for us to advance some of the research even further around cleats or helmets or other protective equipment.”

The NCAA, meanwhile, shared many of its mental health practices with the NFL. Mental health has been a big topic lately for the NFL, which recently passed several new initiatives, including the requirement that each team have a behavioral health clinician available for 8-12 hours per week. The NCAA has a “Mental Health Best Practices” consensus document that Hainline said is endorsed by “25 of the leading mental health organizations in the world.”


Hainline also provided information from the NCAA/Department of Defense’s CARE Consortium, a project launched in 2014 that has studied over 40,000 athletes and cadets and to better understand both the short-term and long-term effects of concussions.

“We shared a lot of information that’s coming out of that study — a lot of this hadn’t been shared with anyone before because it hadn’t been published,” Hainline said.

The NFL and NCAA also spent a significant amount of time comparing and contrasting their concussion protocols. The NCAA’s protocol applies to all 24 of its sports, which Hainline and Miller both said makes it difficult to align exactly with the NFL’s protocol.

“I’m not sure that the effort necessarily was to synergize ours with theirs,” Miller said. “But rather to learn from one another to see what worked with theirs and what we like and what it evolved with in ours.”

While no policy changes were made from this two-day event, both the NFL and NCAA are hopeful that this is the first of many collaborations between the two sides. The NFL, especially, sees the NCAA as a powerful ally in better understanding concussions, injury prevention and mental health, as the universities already are well equipped for doing impactful research.

“Given the fact that there are always going to be terrific researchers at these universities, there are probably innumerable opportunities to put together a study that could advance the science of sports medicine,” Miller said. “And doing some joint research with them is just going to advance sports safety even faster if we work together.”



Rodgers, LaFleur on different pages

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers walked past coach Mike LaFleur during a practice.Mike Roemer/AP/FR155603 AP via AP

Aaron Rodgers and new Packers coach Matt LaFleur haven’t even made it to their first training camp together and they’re already squabbling. In a piece by NFL Media, LaFleur said he and Rodgers have to work through “the audible thing.”

Rodgers is the master of audibles and improvisation, while LaFleur’s offense is based around calling two plays in the huddle, and choosing the better one at the line of scrimmage.

“We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle [Shanahan] in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up,” LaFleur said. “We typically call two plays, and we run one or the other, based upon the look that the defense is giving us. The quarterback chooses, and there are criteria. We try to teach him the criteria for why we would want this play over the other play.”

Rodgers seems pretty adamant about wanting complete freedom at the line of scrimmage.

“I don’t think you want to ask me to turn off 11 years [of recognizing defenses],” he said. “There aren’t many people that can do at the line of scrimmage what I’ve done over the years . . . It’s kind of second nature. And that’s just the icing on the cake for what I can do in this offense.”


LaFleur, a 39-year-old first-time head coach, is walking a thin line, and clearly doesn’t want to upset his franchise quarterback.

“I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so,” LaFleur said. “Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?”

Seeing this play out so early in LaFleur’s tenure makes me wonder why LaFleur was even hired in the first place. With Rodgers at 35 years old, and his window closing, the Packers should have hired a coach whose philosophies mesh with Rodgers’s skill set. Instead president Mark Murphy hired a guy whose offense seems to be the antithesis of how Rodgers likes to play. Square peg, meet round hole.


Texans moved on Caserio too soon

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio talked with coach Bill Belichick during a Sept. 2018 practice.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Two more points to consider about the Nick Caserio-Houston Texans dalliance:

■  Texans CEO Cal McNair fired previous GM Brian Gaine with 3½ years to go on his five-year contract. And he is still paying the GM before him, Rick Smith. So that’s two general managers on McNair’s payroll, with neither working for the Texans. One source close to the situation said that McNair must have been convinced by Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby that Caserio was ready to come on board.

■  Caserio’s contract with the Patriots reportedly runs through next year’s NFL Draft, which could produce an interesting dilemma for both the Patriots and Texans if Caserio is set on leaving (the Patriots do have nearly a year to convince him to stay).

Related: The real story in the Patriots-Texans clash: Nick Caserio wants out

For the Patriots, do they really want Caserio running their draft and free agency if he’s going to leave in May? But there is a positive to holding onto him until the end: They would essentially block Caserio from running the Texans’ draft and free agency next offseason.

The Texans, meanwhile, can simply hire Caserio when his contract expires next spring. But they most likely want to hire him in January or February, so he can get to work on the 2020 offseason. Of course, he’ll still be under the Patriots’ control at that point.

All of which is a long way of saying, perhaps the end game here is Caserio finishing out the 2020 season in New England, then the Patriots trading Caserio to the Texans in February. The Texans get their man, and the Patriots get the something of value in return.


Gronkowski here, there, everywhere

The idea seemed a bit far-fetched when Rob Gronkowski intimated in early 2018 that he could retire from the NFL and become a movie star. But Gronk doesn’t need football or the silver screen to stay in the spotlight. Being “Gronk” seems to be pretty lucrative on its own.

His Instagram account is a steady stream of advertisements. This week, he’s promoting Hotels.com. Last month, it was Cheerios. In April, the new Avengers movie. In February, Snow teeth whitening.

And when he’s not filming commercials, Gronkowski is staying busy with charity and community appearances, like when he buzzed off his hair for cancer research, or held his annual youth football camp. Last week, Gronk’s foundation donated $50,000 to the Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. Gronk may be a long way from becoming The Rock, but his personal brand is a force. He seems much happier licensing his name and doing charity appearances than he did playing football.


Jones absorbs wrath of the fans

Giants quarterback Daniel Jones has received plenty of criticism and jeers from fans.Adam Hunger/AP/FR110666 AP via AP

Giants fans booed rookie quarterback Daniel Jones on draft night. They have criticized him relentlessly on talk radio and social media. And last Monday night, they booed Jones again when he was shown on the videoboard at Yankee Stadium.

Jones, the No. 6 pick in the NFL Draft, has taken the venom in stride.

“I certainly don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it, [but] you’re aware of it,” Jones told the “Rich Eisen Show”. “At the end of the day, I’m grateful to be part of this franchise, get this opportunity and looking forward to keeping it going.”

This is not usually the fan treatment given to the No. 6 overall draft pick, one who is being groomed as the next franchise quarterback. Jones can thank NFL draftniks such as ESPN’s Todd McShay for poisoning the fans on him. McShay had Jones ranked as his 59th best prospect and ripped the Giants’ pick in his post-draft analysis, calling it a “big mistake” and a “massive reach.”

“One day he could develop into an adequate starter, but that’s the best you’re going to get,” McShay said on April 26.

McShay is certainly entitled to his opinion, and he may prove to be correct. But absolutely no one has any idea if Jones will be a successful quarterback — not McShay, or Giants GM Dave Gettleman, or Jones, or anyone else.

Yet Jones has to endure a summer of intense booing because the draftniks, who don’t work for a team and on a good year will get nine out of 32 first-round picks correct, thought the Giants reached with the pick.


Credit card: Don’t leave without it

Among the items you may not need to bring to a football game pretty soon: Cash.

The Falcons became the first NFL team to go cash-less when they announced in March that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will only accept credit cards and mobile payments like Apple Pay or Venmo, citing “quicker transaction times and lower wait times.”

Ravens president Dick Cass told The Athletic that the Ravens are looking “very hard” at making the cashless switch in 2020. And Dolphins president Tom Garfinkel said this February’s Super Bowl in Miami may be cashless, as well.

“It’s inevitable,” Cass said. “I mean, when you go into Starbucks now, not that many people use cash, and when they’re using cash and people are sort of grumbling to themselves, ‘Why is he using cash?’ Right?”

Extra points

For the second straight year, the Eagles are making major changes to their medical team. Per ESPN, the Eagles parted ways with head team physician Stephen A. Stache and hired Arsh Dhanota to the new role of chief medical officer after the Eagles had a rough season of injuries in 2018. Stache was on the job for just one season, as the Eagles took the unusual step of parting ways with their head physician, head internist, and head trainer after winning the Super Bowl in early 2018. “That’s kind of unprecedented to have that much change,” former 17-year Chargers team doctor David Chao said on his podcast last week. “To change after a Super Bowl victory is unprecedented, and to change two years in a row is unprecedented.” . . . Meanwhile, the Eagles are holding just one training camp practice open to the public this year, and getting in requires a $10 ticket (with proceeds going to charity). The other practices will only be open to corporate partners, season-ticket holders, and charitable organizations. Training camp practices, free and open to the public in most cities, are the best value in the NFL, and are the one time of the year that the average fan can go watch his favorite team up close. Let’s hope that what the Eagles are doing is not a trend that catches on . . . The best story you will read all week is one from an investor named Drew Dickson about his troubled son, Max, and the chance run-in he had with Colts cornerback Kenny Moore two years ago. Moore’s compassion and subsequent friendship for a total stranger helped Max get his life back on track.

Quote of the Week

“When I watch film of other teams, I feel bored.”

— Chiefs backup quarterback Chad Henne, to WEEU radio in Reading, Pa., on what it’s like to play in Andy Reid’s offense.