June 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew testing out new helmet

Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew is wearing the Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, which is not only vastly more comfortable, it's also more protective against head trauma. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park — Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew finally broke down and upgraded his helmet.

“Yeah, I had to get rid of that 80s thing I had on,” he said Wednesday.

He went from old-school to the cutting edge. He’s now using the Riddell SpeedFlex helmet, which is not only vastly more comfortable, it’s also more protective against head trauma.

“It is more protective and it’s a little bigger, more space, more room inside,” he said. “I got new guts put in. I had the old guts and it wasn’t very soft; it was just what I was used to.”

There’s a lot more to it than that, though. Pettigrew and fullback Jed Collins are testing the new helmet, though neither are using the InSite Impact Response system, which is a computer chip intended to alert the training staff when a significant hit to the head has occurred. That innovation is being used at the Pop Warner, prep and college levels.

“There are a couple of features on there that are unique to that helmet,” said Lions equipment manager Tim O’Neil. “One is a third inflation point in the back, so you get real good occipital lockdown (tight against the back of the skull) on it. So if you have an issue with forward rotation of the helmet where it might come down on the bridge of your nose, that’s a huge benefit to have that.”

The feature Pettigrew especially likes is that there are no snaps. The chin strap tightens and loosens ratchet-style. It fits tighter than the snap-design chin strap did.

“They get really good lockdown on that and it leaves no room for air or player adjustment,” O’Neil said. “We have had all these new helmet upgrades over the last dozen-plus years and no one really addressed the chin strap, and that’s a big part of it.”

The helmet is designed to better protect against head trauma by reducing what is called the impact-force transfer to the players’ heads.

“Where the facemask attaches, that’s a little bit of a different system,” O’Neil said. “The testing that Riddell has done and independent labs have done has shown that it attenuates (weakens) the energy better on hits to the front. There is also a cut-out area on the crown where, same thing, it attenuates a lot more energy.”

Pettigrew, of course, is less interested in the science than the comfort and thus far, he is pleased with his new bucket.

“We’re excited about it,” O’Neil said. “This is just the first phase of the evaluation for us. Second phase will be camp, where we will really bang it and see what Brandon thinks.”