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NFL says hits to the head will not be taken lightly

During the NFL owners' meeting this week, safety was at the forefront of new rule changes, including a "medical timeout" that athletic trainers can call from the booth if they see players exhibiting concussion-like symptoms.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

The NFL owners unanimously agreed this week to revise the league's safety rules and give a little more power to the  "injury spotter" when it comes to diagnosing concussions in a game.

You can thank a staggering Julian Edelman in Super Bowl XLIX - who got rocked by Seattle's Kam Chancellor - for this new "medical timeout."

You can thank old-school football diehards (and commentators like Stephen A. Smith) for the fact that it's taken the league this long to be concerned about concussions and brain damage associated with football.

In the new rule, the injury spotter (athletic trainer) sits in the booth waiting to make a judgment call on any players showing concussion-like symptoms.

Instead of just buzzing coaches on the sidelines, now these certified athletic trainers in the booth, will have a direct line to referees and will be able to signal a medical timeout to check on any head injuries.

"The Edelman situation was a play we looked at and it was part of the issue," said NFL's competition committee chair Rich McKay. "Really it came a little bit from the health and safety committee just saying, ‘We got the spotters, they've got a really good vantage point, they've got technology in their booth, they're communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors and we've got a pretty good rhythm going there, why would we miss a player where a player shouldn't come out?'"

This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion, because clearly concussions and the affect of a head injury is an issue players - and teams - need to be made more aware of.

Since the NFL started paying closer attention and instituted a concussion protocol, the overall occurrence has generally decreased - from 171 reported concussions in 2012 to 123 last season.

A PBS/Frontline  "Concussion Watch" database - built from team injury reports and Football Outsiders - has some very revealing stats related to head injuries and the NFL:

  • Broncos had the second-highest number of concussions in the NFL in 2014 at 8. The highest was the Bengals with 10.
  • The top three positions for the most occurrences of concussions were all defense - cornerback (24), safety (18), linebacker (16).
  • 15 wide receivers suffered concussions in 2014, as did 11 quarterbacks and 11 offensive tackles.
  • Among the most severe cases in 2014 was Cardinals' linebacker John Abraham, who suffered a concussion on Monday Night Football in Week 1 and could not pass the final protocol stage before Week 3. The Cardinals placed him on Injured Reserve for the remainder of the season.

Concussions in football are as old as the game itself, but as medical research has uncovered the dark side to its occurrence - namely moderate to severe brain damage - more and more NFL players are showing concern.

In fact, the NFL agreed last summer to a $765 million settlement to more than 5,000 retired NFL players who suffered brain trauma as a result of concussions.

And last week rookie linebacker Chris Borland announced his retirement from pro football specifically because the 24-year-old wants to preserve his brain.

Repeated head trauma over time can result in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can lead to depression, dementia, aggression and memory loss.

Yet, even with such damning evidence, the issue of playing versus not playing opens a floodgate of debate.

Players want to play. Coaches expect players to be tough and play through some pain but don't often stand up to athletes who insist on playing through more serious injuries. Team doctors can get caught between the desires of the athletes and their medical judgment. And don't even think about bringing fans into the discussion.

I don't give a damn that he's woozy. This is the Super Bowl. There's a championship on the line and you've got all offseason to get your head right.   -Stephen A. Smith on whether Julian Edelman should have been taken out of the Super Bowl.

After Edelman got his bell rung by Chancellor, he caught three more passes for 33 yards and crawled across the goal line for a touchdown as the Patriots mounted an impressive come-from-behind Super Bowl win.

Sports commentator Stephen A. Smith's comments the day after the Super Bowl is probably similar to many of our own:

"I've got to confess that I think the rules were definitely bent a little bit and I'm glad they were," Smith said on First Take the day after the Super Bowl. "I don't give a damn that he's woozy. This is the Super Bowl. There's a Super Bowl championship on the line and you've got all offseason to get your head right."

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Try telling that to the 123 NFL players, including eight Broncos, who suffered concussions last season.

"The protocol is on the right path," running back C.J. Anderson acknowledged in a Denver Post article in January, adding that he changed his helmet to a more padded one after suffering his concussion in the preseason game against the Seahawks. "As a player you have to do something to help yourself too."

Emmanuel Sanders entered the protocol after getting pummeled by St. Louis Rams safety Joe McLeod Nov. 16.

"Obviously you don't want to go back out there not thinking you are OK," Sanders told the Denver Post. "As annoying as it is, it is beneficial to the training staff and the player. The player knows, 'I went through all this stuff and I know I am secure.' It's better than just going out there and saying, 'Am I doing the right thing? Am I just doing this because of the love of the game?' It takes everything out of the training staff's hands and the player's hands and puts it in the hands of the doctor, and that's how it's supposed to be."

But Sanders admitted even this week that had it been up to him, he would have been back on the field.

Injuries are always a tough issue - players don't like to be off the field and fans don't like to see them there.

But when it comes to the head, there is plenty of research indicating concussions are not to be messed with. Experts estimate that pro football players suffer between 900 and 1500 blows to the head every season, and there is 75 percent risk a football player will sustain a concussion during his football career.

Rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer missed dressing for two games after suffering a concussion in practice before Week 14.

"I got through the whole practice and went through meetings and the next day doing drills, I was like, 'Nah, this isn't feeling right,'" Latimer said. "It was tough to get back out there. I thought I had passed the tests easily. But they were cautious and looking out for me. I came back feeling amazing, so what they did was right."

When it comes to the head, there is plenty of research indicating concussions are not to be messed with. Pro football players suffer 900-1500 hits to the head every season with a 75 percent chance of a concussion.

Hall-of-Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said he suffered two "severe" concussions during his 12-year career, but had concussion symptoms between six and eight times.

And while the six-time Pro Bowler could not have imagined walking away from the game, he said earlier this week he would not encourage his own child to pursue football just because of the risks and dangers associated with head injuries.

"I don't have a 10-year-old son," says the father of two girls. "If I did, I would not tell him he could not play football. But I don't think I would encourage him to play football. If he wanted to, I would say great, you can do it. But I don't think I would be encouraging him."

Aikman's admission, Borland's retirement, Junior Seau's suicide linked to head trauma from football (despite never being diagnosed with a concussion) - all indictments worth paying attention to.

Horse Tracks - Concussions

NFL concussion protocol a hit for players' safety - The Denver Post
Concussions protocol helps, but improvement still sought in NFL

N.F.L. Teams Now Operate Under a Concussion Management Protocol -
It happens dozens of times in every game. There is a fierce collision ... and most of the time, players rise to their feet uneventfully. Other times, as the pileup unravels, a player gets up slowly. His gait may be unsteady.

49ers Linebacker Chris Borland Retires Early Fearing Brain Damage : NPR
After a successful rookie year, Borland has decided to retire from football citing concerns about the damage playing the sport can inflict on the brains of players.

Dallas Cowboys great Troy Aikman on Chris Borland, NFL Concussions | The MMQB with Peter King
Chris Borland is half Troy Aikman’s age, and when I recently asked Aikman if he thought about what his health would be like at 48 when he was Borland’s age (24), he answered as I expected. He said it was inconceivable that he would think that far ahead.

NFL approves in-booth 'injury spotter' as part of new player safety rules -
The new "injury spotter" position was inspired by the Super Bowl, during which Julian Edelman appeared to play while suffering concussion symptoms.

Inside Slant: Julian Edelman looked concussed. Was he? - NFL Nation Blog - ESPN
Julian Edelman scored the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. But should he have been on the field?

Concussion Watch | FRONTLINE | PBS
A database showing NFL players who have appeared on the team injury report for a concussion or head injury.

Horse Tracks - Broncos/NFL

Gary Kubiak: Broncos will look at Peyton Manning's workload - Denver Broncos Blog - ESPN
The Broncos would like to have Peyton Manning rested and healthy for the playoffs and would also like to see what they have in Brock Osweiler.

Gary Kubiak's play-calling will be rooted in Peyton Manning's comfort - ESPN
The Broncos head coach says he won't stray from calling plays that work best with Manning's skills, and Manning will still make audibles, of course.

Denver Broncos look at offensive change - ESPN
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the team running the ball more and how Peyton Manning will adapt.

Should Broncos Take a Chance on Randy Gregory?
Upon discovering that he failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, should the Denver Broncos take a shot on Nebraska's Randy Gregory?

As Broncos adjust to 3-4, they'll have to wait on Marshall and Trevathan
Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan could be limited to walk-through work during OTAs because of foot and knee injuries.

Touted offensive tackles no sure things in NFL draft for Broncos - The Denver Post
Touted right tackles offer no guarantee of right answer in NFL

Peyton Manning has some comfort under center
The quarterback has worked under center before, so he should have a smooth transition to seeing more work in that alignment.

Divisional power rankings -
For the third consecutive year, the NFC West topped Around The NFL's rankings. In the AFC West, Broncos not as dominant, Raiders still a tomato can.

Jonathan Martin released by San Francisco 49ers -
The San Francisco 49ers announced Thursday that they have released offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. Will Martin find a new team?

NFL will curb on-field slurs, with one notable exception -
The NFL is working to end all on-field slurs and hateful language -- but it decided not to act against the use of the word "redskin."

Jay Cutler to face 'open competition' for Bears' QB job -
Coach John Fox said Wednesday that Jay Cutler will face an "open competition" at quarterback. Could the Bears end up going with Jimmy Clausen or a rookie instead?

Randy Gregory, Kevin White could slide in 2015 NFL Draft -
Who could be slipping down draft boards? NFL Media analysts see Nebraska's Randy Gregory and West Virginia's Kevin White as players who could go a bit lower than expected.

Should Broncos Take a Chance on Randy Gregory?
Upon discovering that he failed a drug test at the NFL Scouting Combine, should the Denver Broncos take a shot on Nebraska's Randy Gregory?

League opts for tweaks, not radical changes
Such proposals as massive expansion of instant replay, the expansion of the postseason to 14 teams and a change in overtime protocols were voted down or tabled.