The 2023 offseason offered several new experiences for Sam Howell, from learning a new offense to being the Washington Commanders' starting quarterback.
It also included a new way to protect himself in his second season.
Eagle-eyed fans who attended training camp may have noticed that Howell's helmet looks a little different compared to the one he wore last season. That's because Howell is using the Riddell Axiom, a model used more commonly in college but is becoming more popular in the NFL for its improvements in vision, comfort and protection.
Howell has worn the helmet since the start of OTAs, but it only took one day to convince him that he should make the switch.
"It's the most comfortable helmet I've ever worn," Howell said.
The increase in comfort level comes from the fact that Howell's helmet is specifically designed for him. The Axiom uses Riddell's "Tru-Fit System," which involves a scan of a player's head to get its exact shape. That information is then used to create a helmet that is unique to the individual.
This contrasts with Riddell's Speedflex helmet -- the helmet Howell wore last year -- which uses air pumps to adjust to a player's needs. While those models have been effective, there is a level of discomfort that can come with figuring out what level of tightness is comfortable but also protective.
With the Axiom, that level of experimentation is not present.
"When you put it on, it feels a lot different," Howell said.
The Axiom is also much lighter than the Speedflex and many other helmets used by NFL players. Howell's helmet weighs about four pounds, which is a half-pound lighter than the helmet Howell used in 2022.
Naturally, that did raise some questions from Howell in terms of protection from concussions, but the Axiom has precautions for that built into its design. In addition to a flexible portion near the top of the helmet that allows energy to get dispersed more evenly -- the Speedflex also has this feature -- the Axiom also has flexible portions on each side of the helmet to more effectively absorb impacts. It also has what Riddell calls "InSite Analytics," which uses sensors to measure impact severity.
"Obviously, I haven't taken very many hits with it," Howell said. "That's kind of the last thing I need to test and see," Howell said.
Aside from the protection against concussions, one of the biggest benefits the Axiom offers Howell is its increase in vision. It doesn't have a top bar, and there are fewer sidebars on the facemask. This is also tied to increased flexibility in the helmet itself, but it also provides Howell with a clearer view of the field.
Those distinctions, while subtle, make a noticeable difference when Howell is on the field.
"It feels like I'm not wearing a helmet," Howell said of the vision. "When you put it on, it feels a lot different."
Howell went back to the Speedflex just one time during the offseason. It was during the Commanders' first preseason game against the Cleveland Browns, when the rain from that night got inside the top of his visor.
Unless the situation calls for it, though, Howell won't be switching back again anytime soon.
"I missed the new helmet for sure," Howell said with a smile.