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To shield or not to shield: Packers consider options for face protection

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Corey Linsley had enough to worry about when it came to his health and safety as he returned to the NFL in the COVID-19 football era -- whether to bring his wife, Anna, and their young son, Seamus, to Green Bay or leave them back home in Ohio was chief among them -- that it didn’t sound as though face masks and face shields were anywhere near the forefront of his thoughts.

They might be at some point soon.

At first, the Green Bay Packers' veteran center said, “As of right now, I don’t see myself wearing one.”

But as his recent Zoom interview with reporters progressed, the idea of adding an extra layer of protection for a player who’s in the trenches play in and play out seemed to sound a little more appealing.

“Honestly, I guess this speaks a little to my ignorance, but I don’t know,” Linsley said. “I don’t really have any information regarding that one way or the other. If that’s something our trainers come to us and say, ‘Hey, look, studies show this and that, certain percentage level of reduction on breathing on people and contracting the virus and we anticipated lowering everybody’s chance of getting it,' yeah, for sure, that’s something I would consider absolutely. But I haven’t heard anything like that, I haven’t really talked to the trainers about that, but that’s something I think they’re looking into right now I would imagine.

“And come time for the season, that’s definitely an adjustment we could make.”

Or could they?

One former Packers offensive lineman, who played in the late 1970s through the late 1980s, said, “I would not wear a face shield due to breathing and fogging issues.”

He added: “I would feel very safe. These are some of the best-conditioned athletes in the world. Very low risk for serious consequences even if contracted.”

Former Packers tackle Bryan Bulaga, who signed with the Chargers this offseason, said he is considering the extra face shield.

"I'm thinking about testing it out when we are allowed to see how I am able to breathe and check how much and if it fogs up," Bulaga wrote in a text message. "And to be honest I have no clue how much it will help, that’s another factor on if I will wear it or not."

The Packers practice for the first time on Saturday, which would offer the first opportunity to see if players have added extra safety equipment to combat the coronavirus.

“I think guys are going to probably try a bunch of different things, but at the end of the day, guys are pretty particular about what equipment they use when they go out and perform,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “I’m sure they’re going to try a lot of the different stuff that’s come through, but I really have no idea where they’ll settle with those things.”

Several companies have manufactured protective devices that can be added to players’ helmets for an extra layer of protection. For example, Oakley developed a mouth shield that was expected to be distributed to all 32 teams.

Another helmet-maker, Schutt, developed a “splash shield” that it says will offer "some protection for football players from harmful droplets caused by talking, sneezing and coughing in close proximity."

That would seemingly apply the most to players on the offensive and defensive lines and perhaps, to a lesser extent, receivers and defensive backs, who engage in close contact on every play.

“You’re out there and exchanging sweat, blood and tears constantly,” Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “Then you have to come back in the building and then remember that you’ve got to stay away from each other and be able to still follow the right protocols for whatever it is for the building.”

What teams can’t do, however, is mandate certain equipment be used on the field unless it’s part of the established leaguewide rules.

“I think that’s going to be up to the player,” Gutekunst said. “I think we’ve been really strong recommending the masks. All the science and all the advice we’ve gotten from the experts have been that’s probably been the single most important thing that guys can do, but certainly when they’re competing out on the practice field, during games, that can be a difficult thing for them. So it’s really up to them and how they want to go about it.”