Over the offseason, the NFL seemed to take a significant step towards improving player safety. The league's owners approved a measure to appoint independent athletic trainers as injury spotters, who have the power to order a medical timeout when they feel a player may have been hurt during a game.
Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay said the rule was partially inspired by what transpired in the fourth quarter of last season's Super Bowl, when New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman stayed on the field after he took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit and appeared to be suffering from concussion-like symptoms.
But 10 weeks into the season, players are still remaining in games after suffering head injuries. Ben Volin of the Boston Globe notes the concussion spotters missed at least three incidents last week, one of which involved Edelman.
In the first quarter of the Patriots' contest against Washington, Edelman was leveled by linebacker Kyshoen Jarrett after catching a 7-yard pass on a third-and-5. Jarrett was flagged for unnecessary roughness, which pushed the Patriots up to Washington's 8-yard line. But despite sustaining the helmet-to-helmet contact, Edelman wasn't taken out of the game. He lined up on the very next play, and Tom Brady found him in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass. Edelman appeared to undergo concussion protocol following the drive.
Of course, that's not supposed to be how these injury spotters operate. Their job is to flag possible concussions in real time and order that players undergo testing immediately, not after a drive concludes.
Later on in the Patriots game, left tackle Sebastian Vollmer suffered a concussion late in the second quarter, but finished out the possession as well. He sat out for the entirety of the second half and is inactive this week against the New York Giants.
In Philadelphia, safety Malcolm Jenkins says he was experiencing concussion-like symptoms after tackling Cowboys running back Darren McFadden in the second quarter, but didn't tell the training staff until after the game. Jenkins was on the field for every Eagles defensive play.
Malcolm Jenkins suffered concussion on McFadden tackle 2nd qtr didn’t tell anyone til after game. Says coaches,medical staff weren’t happy— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) November 12, 2015
Jenkins' incident sheds light on perhaps one of the biggest hurdles facing the league in its quest to curtail concussions: Players often don't want to be taken out of games. In theory, that's where the injury spotters are supposed to step in, but it remains a difficult task to diagnose head trauma from the press box.
If players are going to hide concussions from their teams, which Jenkins admits he did last week, many of the attempts to make football a safer game are largely futile. There's only so much independent athletic trainers and medical staffs can do if players aren't willing participants in these efforts.