So how, exactly, does covering the legs in padding protect the head? Lesniak said many defensive players sustain concussions when they get kneed in the helmet while trying to make a tackle.
“It’s not unreasonable to have the assumption that it’ll decrease concussion severity,” Lesniak said. “Any time there’s padding between two colliding forces, it protects both colliding athletes.
“It’s another thing the NFL can say: ‘We’re doing everything we can to protect the player without sacrificing the integrity of the game.’ ”
Concussion prevention was not among the explanations the league used when defending the rule change. Hanks focused more on what he believes will be the tangible impact — the reduction in missed time because of bruises.
Plus, the league argued, because everyone will be wearing them, it will provide a level playing field. And it will set an example for players at all levels of the game, from Pop Warner on up.
As for complaints that the extra padding will be restrictive for backs and receivers, Hanks had a ready-made response: Adrian Peterson, wore them throughout the 2012 season en route to rushing for 2,097 yards.
“That complaint rings hollow,” Hanks said. “I think that, obviously, when you go from wearing absolutely nothing on your legs, there is a difference. The big thing we want to reinforce is that there’s equity in the rule.”
Uniform inspectors will be on the lookout for scofflaws on Sundays, before the opening kickoff and after. Players who enter the game without proper padding will be removed from the field until the violation is corrected.
Dolphins players who spoke on the issue this week said that, regardless of what they think of the new rules, they have no choice but to abide by them.
“I played five years and I never had them, so it felt a little weird the first day, but I’m getting used to them,” tight end Dustin Keller said.
Added Clabo: “I don’t know what they’re thinking. [But] they have to pay the medical bills, so you can’t fault them for trying to keep us as healthy as they possibly can.”