PHOENIX — Concussions are at the forefront of any talk of player safety, but the majority of games missed in the NFL are due to knee, ankle, and foot injuries. So the league is zeroing in on perfecting cleats to address the issue.
At a health and safety briefing Tuesday, NFL executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller estimated 60 percent of injuries for players are lower extremity problems. That meant an emphasis was made in recent years on better-designed cleats, but that effort will now be honed even further with custom-designed cleats for players.
“We’ve definitely seen innovation in the cleat design and the flexion properties of shoes,” NFL head, neck, and spine engineering subcommittee chairman Dr. Jeff Crandall said. “Now what we’re working on is — because the shoes are being altered to do well in tests to protect the athletes — we need to make sure that the athletes are wearing the right size shoes or shaped shoes.
“What we’re working on this year is there will be an offering with teams where we’ll bring in laser scanners into the locker room. They’ll scan the feet, they’ll look at the shoes in terms of the type of shoes for that position, as well as the shape that fits that foot. Our hope is that we’ll get optimized performance in terms of safety, as well as performance for the athlete.”
Lisfranc injuries and turf toe — which slowed much of Julio Jones’ 2016 season and recently required surgery to repair — were specifically cited as problems that could be curtailed by better-fitting cleats.
“Some people may look and say ‘you’re just working with shoes and cleats,’ but we see this as protective equipment,” Miller said. “If there’s a way to optimize the protective benefits of the cleats and work with the shoe manufacturers to do that, we’re going to have significant savings in terms of injury prevention.”
How many injuries would be prevented by improved cleats remains to be seen. The NFL also hopes to see progress made in the design of helmets, shoulder pads, and playing surfaces. But better shoes appear the closest to making an immediate impact in 2017.