Revolutionary shoulder pads catching on in NFL
Posted August 25
EAST HANOVER, N.J. — NFL players stare in disbelief as Bob Broderick sticks his hand between a pair of XRD foam pads, then full-force slams down a helmet. He doesn't even wince, then takes his hand and shakes that of each player.
That scene has been repeated dozens of times by Broderick and Ted Monica, whose XTECH company manufactures and distributes the shoulder pad that just might become the rage throughout the league.
Just listen to New York Jets defensive tackle Steve McLendon :
"Oh man, do you believe that?" the 10th-year veteran says of the slamming technique that might seem like a trick to some, but clearly is a great selling point for the pad that players using it can't stop raving about. "It's an amazing product, very comfortable, especially for a D-lineman. It's not bulky, gives you a free range of motion for the shoulders, the arms, the hands.
"It protects you everywhere, absorbs all the blows," adds McLendon, pointing to the upper-body area. "And it fits so well, there's nothing for (blockers) to grab. I've worn other pads and felt banged-up in the shoulders every day. Not with these, there are none of those aches and pains."
The NFL allows each player to choose which shoulder pad he wears. Often, players consult the team's equipment managers or trainers.
"It is usually a collaborative process," Jets director of equipment Gus Granneman says. "We discuss what they have worked with previously, what they are looking for, and then we discuss how to get them there with the most protection, but still providing them a low profile, good fit."
Recently — XTECH is in its sixth year — players such as McLendon have been spreading the word.
Khalil Mack, the 2017 Defensive Player of the Year, wears XTECH.
"Tuck put me on them," Mack says of Justin Tuck, a standout defensive end for a decade. "He was like, 'Bro get these. Shut up, just get them.' I was like, 'OK.'
"They're lightweight and I can hit people hard and not feel it."
Adds Broncos All-Pro Von Miller, who barely lost out to Mack for the top defender award last season:
"I like XTECH. I like the way they feel. You know, my position is not as strenuous as a strong safety or linebacker, an offensive lineman or anything like that. I like the way they make me feel and I like the way they protect my shoulders. When it comes to shoulder pads, you always want to be comfortable and protected, you want to be able to play, you want to be able to move, too. And they give me the best of both worlds."
Specifically, players like the way the pad remains low-profile because it doesn't ride up or affect the line of sight when a player turns his head left or right; the swivel belt and buckle that allow the shoulder pad belts to go under the ribs or lats to keep them tighter and prevent the pad from riding up; and an adjustable three-piece body system allowing what Broderick terms a "natural-channel" for the AC joint to sit in, so each pad fits the player's body and slope/angle of his shoulder.
Monica has worked in the football equipment world for 36 years. He custom designs every pad, making adjustments whether it's for an NFL star or one of the hundreds of college players who have switched to XTECH.
If it's a standard custom XTECH pad, it takes him perhaps 10 minutes to build. If it's an elite NFL custom "by-hand" pad developed after speaking to and measuring the player, Monica's design or alterations can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes, and then 10-15 minutes to build.
For example, Vikings running back Latavius Murray had additional custom padding put on to the back of the pad that sticks further out to cover the back of his ribs and outer back a bit more.
The entire unit is put together not in a huge facility the size of a football field, but in a warehouse perhaps the size of an end zone.
XTECH has an exclusive deal with XRD for using its pads in the NFL, college football and youth football. Monica and Broderick estimate that 28 NFL teams have at least one player using the product, and the average per pro team is 27.
Monica measured receiver Eric Decker for the pad and, the next day, he says, the Jets happened to cut Decker, who later signed with Tennessee. Decker then told the Titans he wanted the pad, and soon several other Titans were calling Monica and Broderick to place orders.
If a player has had a history of shoulder problems, Monica says he can tell simply by seeing how a pad sits on the player. Then, after discussions with the player and Broderick, Monica makes an XTECH pad that is adjusted accordingly to provide even more protection in specific areas. He recently did just that for 49ers first-rounder Reuben Foster, a linebacker who fell to the bottom of the first round in part because of shoulder concerns.
The design of Monica's pads features the XRD foam pads — he calls them "smart foam" — that are water resistant as well as highly protective and durable. He says the shoulder pads also have more air flow and the ability to swivel, which provides more range of motion.
"For ventilation, we went from slots to holes in the plastic and then holes in the foam," he explains. "You can imagine how hot the shoulder pads would get from the really big guys, especially."
The XTECH pads weigh from 3.5 pounds to 4.2, depending on size and options. They begin at $425 before customizing. For guys making high six figures and, in many cases, seven figures, that's about the cost of one nice dinner with friends or family.
Monica and Broderick's first NFL team partner was the Giants, followed by the Dolphins and Redskins. Now, pretty much daily, they field calls from players and equipment managers across the league.
The Jets' Granneman says the team's players using XTECH tell him they are quite pleased.
"There is usually immediate positive feedback after one day of practice," Granneman noted. "Good range of motion and mobility with still providing a high level of protection for their shoulders. XTECH is very good at working with any custom requests that we have had. We have several players that we have had custom attachments made for their pads — back plates and extensions, for example — and XTECH has always been very responsive in making these custom parts."
Adds Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who began using them in 2015: "I liked them right from the get-go."
Apparently, hundreds of other NFL players are experiencing the same thing.
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