Mandatory knee braces for offensive linemen: Good idea?

We can debate the subject, but Buffalo Bills' offensive linemen cannot. They'll be wearing them, like it or not. The Bills have joined a growing number of NFL teams that require their offensive linemen to wear knee braces in practice.

Bills head coach Chan Gailey is a big believer in the knee braces, saying he's seen them prevent numerous injuries over the years. From the Associated Press:

"I believe it because I know it, because I've seen it with my own eyes," [Gailey] said. "I've seen bent knee braces come off the practice field and the guy's not hurt. So I know it works."

So why wouldn't a lineman want to wear one?

Well, the braces themselves are a bit cumbersome and restrictive. Guard Eric Wood(notes) says they add "a pound or two" to each leg, they slightly limit the knee's range of motion, and mobility may be hampered a bit.

Now, to you or me, that might sound like a small price to pay for a knee that'll be significantly less likely to be torn to shreds by a wayward 350-pound defensive lineman.

But if your livelihood depended on being a half-a-step quicker than the guy across from you, and you needed every tiny little edge you could get to help your team, to get yourself to the Pro Bowl, to keep yourself in the starting lineup, or even to hang on to your job ... that tiny little loss of mobility is no small thing.

So you can understand if a guy was reluctant to wear one.

The knees of offensive and defensive linemen are in constant peril. They're often planted into the ground, supporting a massive upper body while that upper body struggles against someone else's massive upper body. They're exposed and unprotected, and any blow coming at them — and there are plenty, accidental or otherwise — is a potential crippler.

Here's a thought: Why not make them mandatory for all NFL linemen, offensive and defensive? That way, everyone's got an extra level of protection, and no one's placed at a disadvantage.

The league is thinking about making below-the-waist pads mandatory for receivers and cornerbacks, and that's just for the prevention of minor injuries like bruises. If the league will pursue an issue like that, why not make a push to prevent more serious injuries to more at-risk players?

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