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Indicator on AFL helmets to warn of potentially dangerous hits

NEW YORK -- The Arena Football League's 22nd season could be its most innovative.

The 17-team indoor league gets started Friday night with New Orleans at Los Angeles as the first of eight games. At two of them -- Dallas at Georgia on Saturday, and defending champion San Jose at Chicago on Monday night -- a device tentatively dubbed "Shockometer" will be placed on the helmets of several players.

A triangular piece measuring just more than 2 inches and featuring a little window with green and red indicators will be attached to the helmet. Its purpose is to warn trainers, doctors, coaches and players when someone has taken a dangerous hit, with the indicator turning red.

"We wanted to try to develop something that is fast and is an excellent warning system," said Dave Rossi of Schutt Sports, the world's largest provider of football helmets and faceguards. "It will not necessarily say this player has a concussion, but that he has sustained a hit that could lead to a concussion. It could give them warrant to say stop and take a closer look."

Concussions and their aftereffects, of course, have become a major topic in pro football. Any development that can help prevent such injuries would be a significant step forward.

So when the Shockometer debuts on 40 helmets this weekend, its findings will be eagerly anticipated not only in the AFL, but throughout the sport.

"At this point, we have come up with some prototype product we are using on the field during Arena League games to see how it works in game conditions," Rossi said. "It's not on the market by any means right now.

"What happens in a game is much different than what happens in lab situations. To be able to have a partner like the AFL that values this project as much as we do is fantastic. We can learn an awful lot and make this product as good as it can be before it's winding up on the field in widespread use."

Eventually, Schutt hopes to develop a product that is effective on all levels, from the pros down through the colleges, high schools and youth leagues. For now, the experiment will be limited to a few Arena League games each week.

"I can't wait to see it," said Dallas Desperados chief operating officer Shy Anderson, the chairman of the AFL Rules and Competition Committee. "My biggest concern in this deal would be to get through the first quarter and have a whole lot of red lights flashing, although that shows it's such a hard-hitting game.

"It definitely helps because we have had players get knocked out and we don't know how hard a hit they took. This will tell us if a player needs to be looked at further, whether that hit might have led to an injury."

So who gets the device during the games?

Mostly the positions most susceptible to big hits. Schutt will begin the testing with wide receivers, defensive backs, running backs and linebackers. They also will test some quarterbacks, although, as Rossi notes, the blows passers take are different because often the hardest come from making contact with the turf.

The Shockometer will cost about $30 when it becomes available on the market.

"Part of the intention of this is developing something simple, easy and cost effective so it can also be used at Pop Warner and the youth level," Rossi said. "One of the things you notice when you leave the professional and Division I levels is you don't have that medical expertise on the sideline. So this is something ultimately that will benefit the youth players, too."

Another innovation the AFL has approved for its season, which runs through the July 27 ArenaBowl in New Orleans, is the use of defensive communicators in helmets. Fans are accustomed to quarterbacks getting offensive plays through a speaker in their helmet, but no pro league has allowed defenders the same opportunity until now.

"I thought the defense not having the communications was more of a disadvantage to the team or more of an advantage to the opposing offense," Anderson said. "Coaches were shouting in the signals or signaling them by hand. Now the helmet communications will add to the secrecy."