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Three companies split $1.55 million in NFL Helmet Challenge

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For what appears to be a huge leap forward in innovation for helmet safety, the NFL has awarded a total of $1.55 million split among three companies in its Helmet Challenge.

The challenge, launched in 2019, aimed to dramatically accelerate the timeline for the development of a football helmet better than anything currently being worn by NFL players.

By tapping into the expertise, creativity and vision of a wide range of individuals and companies, the NFL expects these innovations to mark a transformational improvement about four times greater than typically seen year-over-year in helmet design.

“For the groups to address this challenge in ways that have real transferability to football is quite remarkable,” said Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “I don’t think we were surprised with the outcome, so far; that was the hope when we brought people together from different walks of life, lots of different experiences and expertise to address this issue.

“It’s the ability for people from different backgrounds and different expertise to find ‘I can bring this and you can bring that, how can we integrate those to create a better solution than we have done on our own?′ “

Receiving the grant awards are Kollide of Montreal ($550,000); Xenith of Detroit ($496,500); and Impressio of Denver ($454,000). Each has teamed with experts in a variety of fields in seeking improved designs and materials for helmets.

Impressio leveraged a unique soft, multifunctional elastic and highly energy-absorbing material, combined with 3D printing, to rapidly develop novel helmet and liner solutions.

Kollide developed and optimized a prototype with an energy absorption system. Its liner is made of complex and organic 3D printed mesh.

Xenith’s prototype uses highly performing and durable materials, incorporating a compliant shell, 3D-printed lattice carrier, energy control structures and customizable foam inserts for improved helmet performance and comfort.

“The challenge itself was to make a gigantic leap in helmet innovation and technology,” said Ron Jadischke, chief engineer at Xenith. “As we got into it, I was a little surprised how much of a challenge this actually was. One would think if we put enough brainpower and research into it we would easily be able to get there, but it was truly a challenge. It took some deep innovation in both materials and structures to get to where we got.”

Where they have gotten to is a place of solid advancement in this field, with much more to come. As Miller says, the challenge could have resulted in iterations of helmets that are much safer, but “would not allow a player to exit the locker room with the helmet on his head.”

The goal is safer, comfortable and versatile helmets that are relatively easy to manufacture and would eventually apply beyond professional football to colleges and youths.

“The work we want to perform is improving the material,” said Franck Le Naveaux, Kollide’s project coordinator and a former boxer. “Most of what we have developed is a virtual design and testing platform and we’ve learned a lot about how the mesh structure behaves, but there is still a lot to discover and fine tune.”

One area these three projects can offer future help is in position-specific helmets. The NFL has made that a priority, but the variety of impacts players take at different positions makes that solution a difficult task.

Not impossible, though.

“I think that is where the future will be, but is still a tough hill to climb,” said Chris Yakacki, president and CTO of Impressio. “All of us have adopted some approach that allows you to tailor the spots in and around the helmet rapidly. We are making them on a daily basis in the lab, and doing these iterations on an extreme pace. We can go through three or four iterations in a week.

“One helmet shouldn’t fit all, and one test shouldn’t fit all. We’ll get more information to say, for this position, these locations are going to get hit more frequently. And then using our models, using our test equipment, we can simulate and optimize not only for the general test criteria but for very specific position criteria.”

Miller said he is enthused about the current dynamic.

“Innovation seems to have taken hold and bringing new ideas from more competitors or entrepreneurs or small businesses is only going to accelerate that,” he notes.

Added Yakacki: “If you look at a telephone 10 years ago people would say, ‘What is that?′ I think that is what we are going to feel about helmets in the same timeframe. What we can design and how fast we can do it, it is going to be on a short horizon.”

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Ex-Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown says ‘there’s nothing wrong with my mental health’ in wake of sideline outburst

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TAMPA, Fla. — Former Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown said his recent sideline outburst against the New York Jets that resulted in his dismissal from the Buccaneers, and previous incidents he’s been involved in have been miscategorized as “mental health issues.”

In a preview of an episode of “I Am Athlete,” that will be posted in full on Jan. 24, Brown tells former NFL wide receiver Brandon Marshall that he’s not suffering from mental health issues.

“Everyone in the world got a different form of reactions of what happened to me. And it’s all based upon where you from, how you feel and no one really gonna know that regardless of who you is,” Brown said. “The thing with football players is mental health and CTE is this: These guys are willing to do whatever it take to make some obligated gain. But in the midst of those gains, along that journey, they’re mistreated, there’s a lot of stuff that went on that may not have been handled right.

“And then you started your career on a high. It’s like a rollercoaster. You go up, and then as soon as it bout to go down, everyone leave. … If we all players and we all saying we care about mental health, why every time something happens bad or someone reacts, ‘Aw, he’s crazy, there’s something wrong with his mental health,'” Brown asked. “There’s nothing wrong with my mental health. Someone told me, ‘Get the f— out of here.’ I’m not passive-aggressive.”

Brown and his attorney Sean Burstyn have claimed that the Bucs attempted to mislabel his outburst as a mental health issue and wanted Brown to receive counseling, when Brown claims his ankle was too injured to play on, and that Arians told him to leave the field.

Since his release by the Buccaneers earlier this month, Brown has shifted his focus to his music career and rehabbing his ankle, which will require surgery. He indicated he does want to continue playing football next year. He released a music single, “Pit Not the Palace.” He appeared courtside for a Brooklyn Nets-Memphis Grizzlies game two weeks ago. He’s taken part in photo shoots and has linked up with pals Kanye West, Floyd Mayweather and Madonna.

In the past though, he has acknowledged seeking mental health treatment. His father Eddie Brown told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Brown was undergoing therapy after his release by the New England Patriots in 2019, which coincided with two sexual assault allegations.

Brown has also indicated that he supports mental health treatment. In an interview with ESPN in February 2020, Brown was asked whether he needed mental health help, to which he responded, “We all need mental help.”

At that time, the circumstances of Brown’s life were different. He’d been arrested and charged with felony burglary and battery charges. The mother of three of his children, Chelsie Kyriss, posted on Instagram at the time that her and their children were focused on building a new life “free from any impulsive, reckless and unhealthy” behaviors.” She added, “My hope is that Anotonio [sic] will get help and seek the mental health treatment that he so desperately needs so that he can be the father all of his children need and deserve.”

He and Kyriss reached reconciliation and she and their children were on-hand when Brown and the Bucs defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. Brown had also underwent anger management counseling and his probation was terminated one year early for good behavior. On numerous occasions before his departure from the Bucs, both general manager Jason Licht and head coach Bruce Arians described him as a “model citizen.”

Arians said of his departure, “Yeah, it was very hard. I wish him well. I hope, if he needs help, [that he] gets some. It’s very hard because I do care about him.”

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Green Bay Packers expected to have healthy Randall Cobb; statuses of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, David Bakhtiari less promising

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The last two times the Green Bay Packers were in the playoffs, Randall Cobb had to watch from his couch.

The Packers had moved on from the receiver following the 2018 season, and he spent the next two years with non-playoff teams Dallas in 2019 and Houston in 2020.

When he tore multiple muscles in his abdomen as he caught a touchdown pass 12 weeks into his return to Green Bay this season, he was determined not to be a spectator again. Sure enough, Cobb is expected to return for Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

However, even with Cobb’s return, the Packers’ receiving corps may not be at full strength.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was listed as doubtful because of the back injury he suffered in the regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions. He practiced on Tuesday but then was a nonparticipant the rest of the week.

Cobb said he could have played two weeks ago at Detroit, about five weeks after he underwent surgery.

“The past four years I’ve been watching the playoffs from the couch,” Cobb said, counting the 2017 and ’18 seasons that the Packers missed the postseason. “I haven’t seen the playoffs since 2016, so I’m really excited for the opportunity to be out there and help contribute.”

Cobb, who returned to Green Bay last summer via trade from the Texans at the request of Rodgers, said the low point in his career was the 2019 NFC Championship Game, when the Packers played the 49ers. He said he watched the game alone and didn’t even want his wife, Aiyda, with him during it.

“When I got drafted here it was right after the Super Bowl,” Cobb said of the Packers’ Super Bowl XLV win. “We went 15-1, I thought we were going that year. Thought we were going in ’14. Obviously ’16, the loss in Atlanta and I haven’t been there since then and I’ve been watching from the couch.

“It was hard. I was definitely in a dark place when they played the 49ers in San Francisco because in my mind, I’m like, ‘Man, they won the year before I got there and they won the year after I left,’ or, ‘They’re getting ready to go the year after I left, so I must’ve been the problem. It must’ve been me.’ So I was definitely in a dark place that year, but I’m just happy to be a part of it, happy to have the opportunity to contribute and to do my part.”

The Packers activated Cobb off injured reserve on Friday. They had a spot open after they released defensive tackle Kingsley Kekea day earlier. The Packers would also need spots for outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith (back) and Whitney Mercilus (biceps), who are attempting to come back from IR. Coach Matt LaFleur left that possibility as questionable.

Cornerback Jaire Alexander, who is on the roster but hasn’t played since his Week 4 shoulder injury, was listed as questionable.

There are other question marks as well.

When left tackle David Bakhtiari played the first 27 snaps of the Week 18 game against the Lions, it was believed to be a precursor to him playing full time when the playoffs started. That may not be a sure thing. Bakhtiari practiced only one day this week — the middle of three practices — and was listed as questionable.

LaFleur was vague about why or what may have happened in the days since Bakhtiari made his return in the regular-season finale after more than a year away because of ACL surgery.

“He’s working his tail off,” LaFleur said. ‘And we’ll see where he’s at.”

The Packers will have at least one of their two preferred starting tackles. LaFleur said right tackle Billy Turner, who missed the last month of the regular season with a knee injury, has been cleared to play.

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Cincinnati Bengals DE Trey Hendrickson clears concussion protocol, OK to play Saturday

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Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson has cleared the concussion protocol and will play in Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game against the Tennessee Titans, coach Zac Taylor announced Thursday.

Hendrickson, who led the Bengals with 14 sacks this season, suffered the concussion in the Bengals’ 26-19 wild-card game victory over the Las Vegas Raiders last Saturday.

Hendrickson had a strip sack of Raiders quarterback Derek Carr before leaving that game.

His 14 sacks in the regular season were a career high. He had 13.5 sacks in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints, helping him to earn a four-year, $60 million contract in free agency with the Bengals last March.

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