By Peter Schwartz
» More Columns

As concussions continue to be a huge concern at all levels of football, helmet companies continue to make strides in player safety and reduce the risk of head injuries. In 2014, Riddell took a huge step forward in that area with the unveiling of the SpeedFlex helmet.

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It was a success story rarely seen with the launch of a new helmet.

“I would say that it was an extremely successful first year for the SpeedFlex,” said Thad Ide, Riddell’s senior vice president of research and development. “Interest just caught on right from the beginning. We had a lot of big college players and big NFL players wear it right out of the gate.”

Some NFL players who used SpeedFlex this season were Eagles linebacker Casey Matthews, Colts tight end Coby Fleener, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill and Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell.  Among the college players to wear the new helmet were Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland, Penn State linebacker Brandan Bell and Wisconsin safety Michael Caputo.

According to Ide, the players had a positive response to the look and comfort of the helmet.  The SpeedFlex also received rave reviews for its unique features, like the new ratchet-lock chinstrap attachment and embedded sensors. The helmet is not only great looking on the outside, but it is also an informational gathering tool thanks to the impact response system on the inside.

“The SpeedFlex was designed from the ground up to include this type of head-impact sensor monitoring and reporting technology,” said Ide, who first joined Riddell in 1992 as director of engineering and then returned to the company in 2000.

The helmet helps to inform the sideline of impacts that occur on the field that put the player at risk, and also allows them to change the player’s behavior by pointing out practice drills that put the player at risk. The technology allows the coaches to adapt and reduce the risk of injuries to players.

The primary goal is always to protect the athlete.

“We’re Riddell,” said Ide. “That’s what we do. We seek out new technologies and new research and try to make the most protective helmets we possibly can.’

The SpeedFlex earned a prestigious honor when Riddell received a spectacular five-star rating from Virginia Tech.  The SpeedFlex was tested and rated by the university earlier this fall, and it graded out to be the best helmet they had ever tested.

More on the Virginia Tech rating system can be found here.

While technology continues to improve and new helmets like SpeedFlex are introduced into the marketplace, there is no data to suggest that there is any helmet available that can completely prevent a concussion from happening.

Case in point was the NFL’s season opener between the Seahawks and Packers in Seattle.  In that game, Seahawks running back Eddie Lacy, one of the first NFL players to wear the SpeedFlex helmet, suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter.

Lacy decided to switch back to his old helmet, but that didn’t make Riddell worried about the perception of the SpeedFlex.

“There was no concern that (the concussion) had anything to do with the helmet,” said Ide. “The helmet is the product of all of Riddell’s experience and technical prowess. We have absolute confidence in the way the helmet is going to perform.”

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And, as it turns out, the SpeedFlex performed at a very high level. What Riddell is trying to do is reduce the risk of head injuries as much as possible.

“The concussions are a very complicated medical issue,” said Ide.  “There’s a lot of research being done in that area right now, good research that will lead everybody in the right direction as time goes on.”

The objective is to reduce the forces of impact that reach the player’s head.  Riddell has developed an energy management liner system using some new materials and combinations of materials.  They’ve also come up with a flexible panel at the front of the helmet that gives them an improvement in impact response.

“That, in combination with the flexible face guard and with the face-guard attachment points moved around to the side of the helmet to allow the face guard to flex during impact, give us a whole flex frontal protection story,” said Ide.

Improving helmet technology is not just about the NFL or college football.  Player safety is extremely important at the high-school level as well as the youth football level.

Regardless of how old a football player is, it’s important that the helmet he or she is putting on is comfortable and reduces the risk of injury.

“That’s of paramount importance,” said Ide. “We want to make sure that the youngest players that are playing the game are as safe and protected as they possibly can be.  I think that research is being done.  There may be some great breakthroughs in coming years that will help us better understand how we can protect the younger athletes.”

Now that the SpeedFlex has hit the football world — and did so with a great deal of anticipation and positive results — the expectation is that it will become even more prevalent in the football world come 2015 and beyond.

As word of mouth makes its way around, the number of players using the SpeedFlex — at all levels of football — will certainly skyrocket.

“If my experience with a product launch holds any water at all, you’ll see an explosion in the use of the SpeedFlex in the coming years,” said Ide.

Football helmets have certainly come a long way over the years. As the technology continues to evolve the risk of head injuries is reduced, but there isn’t a way to completely prevent a concussion. If you are going to play football or if you are a parent allowing your child to play, its vital that the best possible helmet available is being used.

The SpeedFlex helmet from Riddell burst onto the scene in 2014. Its safety features and unique design were a big hit among the initial players that made the switch.

For more information on the SpeedFlex, go here.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow Riddell @RiddellSports.

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