NFL’s new dress code is a bad fit for some players

Posted Saturday, Sep. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For the first time since 1994, the NFL is mandating the use of knee and thigh pads. Some players see the pads as a pain in the butt.

“I hate it,” Dallas Cowboys linebacker Bruce Carter said, “but you’ve got to do it.”

NFL owners passed legislation in 2012 and gave players a season to get used to the idea. Some — especially receivers and defensive backs — haven’t warmed to it yet, believing the pads slow them down.

Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant badly bruised his left thigh in the 2011 season opener and missed the Week 2 game against the San Francisco 49ers. He was not wearing thigh pads. He would rather not be wearing them now.

But the league will assure that every player is wearing legal pads with pre-game inspections. The NFL hired 32 former players — one for every team — to do inspections and notify team representatives of violations.

Officials will remove players found to be out of uniform during the game, and players face possible discipline for violations.

Players complained but complied during the preseason.

“It’s been a great success,” said Merton Hanks, the league’s vice president for football operations who played safety for nine NFL seasons. “It is a significant change from where we were as a league. It’s been a collaborative effort all the way down the line, and it’s showing on game day. Players are wearing padding that we know from a scientific baseline standpoint is protective wear.”

The NFL made lower-body pads optional beginning in 1995 because they were bulky and enforcement was lax. But the NFL hired Richard Kent, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia, to put the pads through extensive tests. Kent recommended 37 pads as “high performance.”

“I was always one that was very adamant about wearing pads, and I would fine my players if they didn’t wear them,” Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells said. “Now some of them got away with [not wearing them] or were taking them out once the game started, and you’re not thinking about those things when the game is going on.

“But I’m glad that we are enforcing that, because I think the players sometimes don’t know what’s in their own best interest. I think wearing proper equipment is definitely in their best interest, and I’ve seen many, many injuries in my experience that came when proper equipment was not worn.”

Dawson departs

For 14 seasons, Phil Dawson dressed in brunt orange and seal brown. Despite being a kicker, he became the face of the downtrodden Browns, the last player remaining from Cleveland’s 1999 expansion team.

Now, the former Texas standout is starting over with the 49ers.

“It’s been a pretty big transition, obviously,” Dawson said in a phone interview. “I had a lot of special years in Cleveland and a lot of great memories there and had grown comfortable performing there. Switching addresses I knew would be a big deal. I don’t know that I could have anticipated how big a deal it would be, but it’s been a very productive off-season for me.

“I was out here every day of the off-season program and obviously through training camp and feel like I’ve gotten a lot of the unresolved and unknown issues handled.”

Dawson scored 1,271 points in his Cleveland career, second only to Lou Groza for most in franchise history. The Browns, who franchised Dawson in 2011 and 2012, didn’t offer him a contract and found out just how valuable Dawson was to them. The Browns left the preseason without a kicker, and signed Billy Cundiff earlier last week.

Though Dawson insists he leaves Cleveland with nothing but positive memories, he suffered through a 73-151 record, with one playoff appearance and no playoff victories.

He signed a one-year, $2.25 million deal with the 49ers, including a $1 million bonus, to reunite with former special teams coach Brad Seely. What’s bigger, Dawson has a chance to win a playoff game … or two … or three.

“Obviously, [a chance to win a ring] was an attractive element to San Francisco,” Dawson said, “and there were many things that were attractive about this place. People ask me, ‘What was it?’ I tell them, ‘With all due respect, I think the best question is, why not?’ There are so many things pointing in the right direction here. And being wanted also is a huge thing. They made it clear they wanted me here as a player, especially as an undrafted kid who never got that day for a team to call up and say, ‘We want you.’ That was a neat thing to experience.”

Dawson, 38, wants to finish his career in San Francisco, and he doesn’t plan on calling it quits any time soon. He made 9 of 11 kicks in the preseason with two 50-yarders.

“They’re going to have to kick me out of the door of this thing,” Dawson said. “I still enjoy it. I enjoy everything about it. I’m very fortunate to be able to do it.”

Charean Williams, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean

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