The NFL’s new form-fitting uniforms are a big hit, especially among players with sculpted physiques.
“It makes you look like you’re playing out there with nothing on,” Denver Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. “It makes you feel like you’re free, like you’re wearing a napkin it’s so thin.”
That’s precisely the problem for players who don’t have the Adonis-like bodies. The shrink-wrap fit of the new lightweight, body-contoured uniforms doesn’t look so flattering on the jelly-belly linemen.
“Big guys don’t like it when they fit well. We don’t like the tight stuff,” 314-pound New York Giants guard Chris Snee said. “You know, stuff’s falling all over, your stomach is hanging out.”
Still, Snee is like many other players with beefier bodies or swollen stomachs who say they, too, like the new uniforms, because there’s less material for opponents to grab.
Most of the league’s huskier players don’t seem too worried about appearances anyway.
“If you’re going to put a lineman in it, there’s not too much you can do with a tight jersey and tight pants,” said B.J. Raji, the Green Bay Packers’ 334-pound defensive tackle.
New York Jets tackle Austin Howard, who packs 333 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame, called the new Nike uniforms “a little more trendy, I guess you can say.”
“They’re a little tight, a little snug, but they’ve always been a little tight,” he said. “They were even like that last year, but these have different material so you don’t sweat like you would with the other ones. I mean, you can’t wring them out. It kind of just rolls off. The old jerseys, you would sweat and they would weigh you down.”
Justin Bannan, a 305-pound defensive lineman for the Broncos, said he was thrilled when Nike, whose apparel he wore at the University of Colorado, signed a five-year partnership in April with the NFL, which had been outfitted by Reebok for the last decade.
Even though he looks like a guy trying to fit into his old tux for his 20-year high school reunion, Bannan said he wears a smaller-sized jersey anyway to try to thwart grabby offensive linemen.
“It doesn’t look good on us. I look like a fat you-know-what, but it is what it is, nothing I can do about it,” Bannan said. “I try to get mine as tight as possible because they hold so bad. It’s just the way it is.”
Nike spokesman Brian Strong said the new “Nike Elite 51″ uniform that features such things as zoned mesh ventilation and materials to help increase range of motion weren’t designed with just the svelte guys in mind.
“The thing is we understand that the linemen are part of the game, too, so we built the Elite 51 uniform in a variety of sizes, a variety of cuts with players of all shapes and sizes in mind,” Strong said. “So, the idea is to enhance performance across the board. And when we say it’s built for speed, it’s not just built for speed among the running backs corps. We really did look to enhance performance and design for all football players.”
Strong said the shrink-wrap element of the jersey is “about reducing grab points. So, essentially we’re trying to enhance performance of the athlete. If we can make him just a little more elusive from that opponent, that’s really what we’re looking for.”
Statistics show they could be happening.
Sacks are up slightly this year, with 415 league-wide so far, the most through Week 6 since there were 431 in 2000 and 10 more than there were at this point last season, according to STATS LLC.
Holding penalties are, well, holding steady.
“In my confines, offensive linemen will still find a way to hold you. You know what I mean? It’s not like that’s going to change,” Raji said. “Throughout the game, one of those guys will still find a way to hold.”
Taking out the first three weeks of the season to account for games officiated by replacements during the league’s lockout of its regular crews, there have been 88 offensive holding penalties called over the last three weeks, and 68 of those were accepted.
Going back to 2006, STATS said the average numbers in Weeks 4-6 were 83 flags thrown and 68 accepted.
Some players say Nike still has some work to do, though.
Baltimore Ravens 335-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said Nike “has to adjust some things. The stuff tears a lot more easily, I think. Other than that, they’re good. They’re not too tight. I love it tight because there’s less grabbing. Other than the fact they keep tearing a lot, it’s fine.”
Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett said he likes the jerseys but not the pants and said his Nike shoes come apart easily. His teammate, 312-pound defensive tackle Randy Starks, loves the shoes.
“I go by looks. You look good, you feel good, you play good,” Starks said. “These look nice.”
Nike said it’s always looking for ways to improve.
“Nothing specific for upcoming seasons just yet but it’s in our nature to continue to innovate,” Strong said. “We’ll always accept athlete feedback.”
Giants receiver Victor Cruz, who owns a clothing company called Young Whales, is a fan of the new jerseys, which he said repeal precipitation and perspiration better “so it doesn’t get as heavy” as the Reebok jerseys did.
As a fashion “expert,” Cruz laughed at the notion of the burly guys up front wondering, “Does this jersey make me look fat?”
“It’s not too pleasing to the eye sometimes, but it’s better than the stuff they had last year,” Cruz said. “Actually, they look pretty decent. The cleats have some color in them and they look coordinated. It’s a good look for them, a change-up.”