The NFL's latest technological innovation is going smoothly for the Carolina Panthers.
Now it's not just quarterbacks who have radio headsets in their helmets. For the first time, each team is allowed a designated defensive player to wear one. That player – middle linebacker Jon Beason, in the Panthers' case – receives plays from a coach on the sidelines – defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, in the Panthers' case.
The new rule was adopted in April, when league owners voted it in by a vote of 25-7.
“It makes things a lot easier,” said Beason, whose helmet was outfitted with a small speaker behind his right ear.
After a period of adjustment – Beason said he had the headset installed in training camp and used it in exhibitions – the device is helping the Panthers' eighth-ranked defense run more efficiently.
“There are no signal calls I have to actually look out for,” said Beason. “A lot of times I end up on the other team's sideline, making a tackle near their bench. I can get the call (for the next play) over there and get it to everybody quicker.”
The defensive headset is a direct result of the league's “Spygate” scandal of 2007, when New England was caught illegally videotaping New York Jets' defensive hand signals. This makes it virtually impossible to steal signals.
Communications between Trgovac and Beason are open for 25 seconds before the transmitter is turned off with 15 seconds left on the play clock. That time frame is the same for the offense.
“It's really good for the two-minute situation,” said Beason, who leads a defense that's ranked second in the NFL in points per game (14.8). “They're usually snapping the ball before that 15 seconds is up.”
Each team designates two defensive players for a headset, but they can't be on the field at the same time.
Backup linebacker Adam Seward has the Panthers' other headset.
The headset doesn't always serve its purpose.
When the Panthers are home, the Bank of America Stadium crowd can get pretty loud when the opposition has the ball.
“A couple of times at home, it was so loud I couldn't hear the call,” said Beason. “So we've had to go with a ‘fail-safe' defense, just a safe defense to call.”
And sometimes Trgovac's call will come when the defense is already lined up, so late that Beason has to frantically alert his teammates before the ball is snapped.
The radio communication is one-way: Trgovac to Beason.
“Sometimes I wish I had a little microphone attached to my face mask so I can talk back,” said Beason. “I'd like to mess with ‘Turgo' a little.”