With concussions remaining a major concern among NFL players, one former player has developed a program designed to save the sport of football by preventing head injuries.
Former offensive lineman Scott Peters has built a business called Safe Football that teaches players techniques to maximize leverage and minimize head injuries by hitting with their hands and not with their heads.
Using elements of jiu jitsu, the program isn’t just meant to protect players’ heads but also provide them more power on the field.
“We’re not saying in theory this works; we’re saying we know it works,” Peters said to Zak Keefer in a profile in the Indianapolis Star, adding that players “generate 90 percent more power” when leading with their hands as opposed to their heads. “We’re giving these players a competitive advantage.”
Players are often taught to lead with their helmet, which can cause serious injuries on the field or concussions. Injuries suffered as a result of concussions were the center of thousands of lawsuits that were eventually settled by the league for an estimated $1 billion. Despite the settlement, injuries remain an ongoing concern that threatens the future of the sport.
Now, Peters is hoping he can help save football with his techniques.
Safe Football Program Born in Jiu Jitsu Gym
Peters first stumbled upon the idea after going to a jiu jitsu gym while recovering from an ankle injury. Even though he was more than 6 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, older and less athletic men were handily beating him.
“These guys were bankers, in their 50s!” he told Keefer. “I’d never gotten worked over that bad before, not even by NFL defensive linemen.”
He was in awe at the way the men generated force and thought about how it could apply to football.
It wasn’t until he was hired by the University of Washington as the team’s strength and conditioning coach did he realize the full potential of his idea. By embedding elements of jiu jitsu into the players’ workouts, he was able to reshape the way they played.
Not only did the team have its best rushing season in program history but it did so without any players suffering a concussion. He sold his mixed martial arts gym in Scottsdale, Ariz., and got to work.
Colts Invite Peters to Speak to Players and Coaches
Last week, Peters was invited to share his techniques with coaches and players for the Indianapolis Colts during a three-day workshop.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo told Keefer he was impressed with what he learned from Peters and appreciated the different approach to protecting the head.
“It’s based on leverage, on generating power and using your hips, and it makes a lot of sense,” Castonzo said. “The coolest part was that he had a reason for everything he was teaching us. It’s all based on evidence.”
Peters believes that players like Castonzo, who are the most susceptible to repeated blows to the head, could benefit the most from a change in approach. Castonzo agreed to a certain extent.
“I’m not sure if you’re ever going to be able to fully remove the head from the game,” he said. “But if we’re able to get all parties on board and minimize (its impact), that’d be a great start.”
Peters was invited to talk to the Colts because the team has been plagued with injuries the past few years. In 2016, five players missed at least one game due to a concussion. When the season ended, Colts running back Tyler Varga suddenly decided to retire after suffering a concussion that kept him off the field.
“In the end, you just have to weigh the risk versus reward, do a cost/benefit analysis, and I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk,” Varga told WTHR’s Bob Kravitz at the time. “I didn’t want to risk another big one and having it impact my quality of life down the road.
Changing Mentality Remains Biggest Challenge
While the program has seen significant progress, one of the biggest challenges facing implementation is fighting what has been ingrained in players for years.
Peters told Keefer that players believe this is how they’ve always done things and don’t always know what they’re dealing with.
“The problem with the sport is our model for development,” he said. “In some ways it’s lift more weights and eat more food. But if you’re missing the skill set, you’re just asking for more injuries. That equates to bigger impact and more catastrophic injury. That’s why you see more players being carted off the field than ever.”
Another issue is that the fundamentals may not take hold in players in the typically short time he spends with them. While he said everyone agrees his approach is much better, there is less time to teach and new players are often under pressure to win as soon as possible.
“The schemes are so complex now, and the learning curve is so steep, that it’s on-the-job training for so many young players,” Peters said. “They’re auditioning for jobs, and they just adapt.”
Still, Peters said that he knows his program can make the game safer and better for players in the long run. It’s just a matter of getting players to internalize it.