RICHMOND – As the Redskins stretched prior to Saturday’s practice – the team’s first in helmets, shoulder pads and pants – one player yelled out an expletive to describe his feelings about knee pads.
The player was annoyed. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Beginning this season, the NFL will require all of its players to wear thigh and knee pads as part of the league’s uniform code.
And enforcing compliance, according to an NFL referee, will be a point of emphasis in 2013.
“The NFL has a uniform policeman, for lack of a better definition, at every game,” referee Gene Steratore told Redskins beat reporters during a question and answer session Friday. “They always have. In the past, maybe the socks were not pulled [up] the right way or something like that. But … padding is now another issue.”
Steratore said a league representative in charge of uniform compliance will be on the lookout for players not wearing proper padding.
“In the event a player doesn’t have a knee pad in, that uniform policeman will see that,” Steratore said. “When we have a natural break in the game, a commercial break, change of possession, that representative is going to notify that player that he’s not permitted to reenter the game until he’s properly equipped.”
The league rep will also notify the game officials of the violation. If the player comes back on the field later in the game and is still in violation of the rule, that’s when the referee will get involved, Steratore said, and an illegal substitution will be assessed to the offending player. A second violation would result in an ejection.
Many players, particularly veterans, had grown used to playing without the pads, which many believe restrict movement. In fact, a 2010 survey showed that only 30-percent of players wore the pads. The percentage was even lower for the skilled positions such as wide receivers and defensive backs.
Last season, Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams did not wear thigh pads until he suffered a severe bruise that dogged him for much of the campaign. But he’s worn them ever since.
The new regulations are also the reason Coach Mike Shanahan chose to have a full-pads practice while Steratore and his team of officials were in town.
“They have to know the new rules,” Shanahan said of his players. “We’re going to have the officials come in, explain all the new rules in detail, and after we do that, then we’ll get a couple of days of full pads before we have our first preseason game. What they’re trying to do is get players to help protect themselves. So if it’s thigh pads, with a contusion in the quad area, or if it’s the knee, you’re just padding yourself - you’re trying to protect the players, and it’s mandatory. We’ll see how it works.”
Steratore also said the knee pads are also expected to be the “old school” variety, not the “quarter size” pads some players had been wearing.