Lions offensive lineman switching to knee braces following injuries in 2014

At least three Lions offensive line starters will have knee braces this season -- and there's a possibility all five will. Courtesy Michael Rothstein

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Travis Swanson went to the Detroit Lions coaches after the 2014 season with a request -- one he had thought about since he entered the league that May.

The request was based on watching three Lions offensive line starters suffer knee injuries that kept them out of at least one game last season.

Swanson wore knee braces in college at Arkansas. When he came to the NFL, he ditched them because he saw none of his other teammates wearing them. But after what he saw last season, he wanted to revert to his past.

He wanted to wear knee braces.

"I wore them all in college and then came here and I knew, I had seen the guys didn't wear them so I was like, ‘OK, I'm not going to wear them,' " Swanson said. "Yadda, yadda, yadda, we had some things happen so I'm questioning, is there an option? Can we wear knee braces? I wanted to."

Right guard Larry Warford, who missed four games -- including the team's playoff game against Dallas -- with two knee injuries last season will also wear them. He initially wanted to wear them out of Kentucky in 2013 but went to practice as a rookie "and nobody is wearing knee braces and [I] start thinking maybe I don't want to wear my knee braces because guys will start making fun of me."

That isn't a worry now. At least three Lions offensive line starters will have them this season -- and there's a possibility all five will.

Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who is still rehabbing from his torn ACL that ended his 2014 season, told ESPN he will wear them. Rookie Laken Tomlinson, who could win the left guard job, has worn braces all training camp. Left tackle Riley Reiff, who would not tell ESPN whether or not he'll wear braces this fall, has been spotted wearing them occasionally during camp after he missed a game in 2014 with a knee injury. Warford said Reiff told him he plans on wearing them.

"The NFL is interesting in that way, but yeah, we have encouraged them to wear them," Lions offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said. "It's not a mandate, but we've certainly encouraged them. We like to keep our guys in the lineup more, so sure, we're looking for every way we can."

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he is not mandating offensive linemen wear braces and that it is all about the comfort level the offensive linemen have with them. He cited studies that have shown inconclusive results about whether the braces help or harm.

A 2010 study by the National Institute of Health showed no significant difference in ACL and MCL injuries among players who wore braces and those who didn't.

Teams throughout the NFL have different philosophies. All five New York Jets offensive line starters are expected to wear them this season. The New England Patriots require their offensive linemen to wear them in practice, but it is not a requirement in games. The Dallas Cowboys require linemen to wear them during fully padded practices.

Other teams leave it to the comfort of the player -- for instance Green Bay tackle Bryan Bulaga wears one after tearing his ACL in 2013 and Tennessee center Brian Schwenke started wearing one this year in hopes it will prevent the types of injuries he had in the past.

So it really comes down to what the players believe and what makes them feel comfortable.

"With what I had, I don't think it would have stopped what happened," Waddle said. "But it's just, kind of, why not. Keep that thing protected as much as you can. Want to make injury as preventable as possible."

Prevention brought Warford back to braces. He knew about the inconclusive research but said during his rookie season it "felt really sketchy" not wearing them because he was used to them at Kentucky. Once he got hurt last season, he decided he'll wear them the rest of his career.

After wearing them for the first time with pads during Detroit's first padded practice on Aug. 5, he said they were uncomfortable when he wore them over his tights. He expects they'll take getting used to and plans on wearing braces Thursday night against the Jets in the Lions' preseason opener. Waddle said he expects it'll change some of his movement initially, but that is why he has them on whenever he's hitting a sled during his rehab.

The Lions' linemen insist they aren't trying to create a new protective fad, though.

"It's not about starting trends," Warford said. "It's about preventing stuff."

NFL Nation reporters Rob Demovsky, Paul Kuharsky, Mike Reiss, Rich Cimini and Todd Archer contributed to this report.