NFL’s new Zero 1 helmet could reduce brain injuries

Except when a big star doesn’t show up or gets injured, it’s rare that NFL minicamps make many headlines.

That could change this month.

NFL teams will be trying out a new helmet, the VICIS Zero 1, that the league and the players’ union hope will be more effective in trying to limit head trauma. The new product topped independent testing of 33 helmets conducted in Canada by the league and NFLPA. The results, which included testing the impact at three velocities and in eight locations on each helmet, were sent to each team and to the players.

The Zero 1 is the first to account for rotational as well as linear impact. Scientific studies have indicated that rotational impact has more correlation with concussions.

“All helmets that are certified are available for players to wear, we just take another step with which ones tested best in the lab,” says Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice-president of health and safety policies. “We make it clear in our communications, this is just lab testing and how that translates to on the field is an open issue.”

The NFL and union have released a poster highlighting results of the testing, which can’t reflect the comfort element. That’s entirely up to each player and the Zero 1 already hit a snag last year when two Pac-12 teams, Oregon and Washington, sent them back because they weren’t comfortable.

“Equipment managers are great in making it clear this is one element of which helmet they should choose,” Miller adds of the testing, conducted in January and March. “Fit matters and comfort matters, and other issues that are relevant to a player.”

The Zero 1 has been three and a half years in the making. It has two layers, and deforms (basically, compresses) and reforms in the first layer. The second layer absorbs much of the force.

“The notion is it will mitigate a lot more of the force when a helmet hits something,” Miller says. “It is a novel design.”

Its creator, Dave Marver, and his associates met NFL equipment staffers to find out their likes and dislikes, all the while seeking to make a next-generation helmet for protection and performance. Marver finished the engineering phase last year, and then it was “time to get the helmet on the field,” he says. He worked with semipro teams and colleges — Auburn and Alabama-Birmingham tried it during camps this spring — made more refinements, and now minicamps will be a major testing ground.

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