Catching Up With Former Buffalo Bills Safety Mark Kelso

Mark Kelso played his entire eight year NFL career with the Buffalo Bills. From 1986-1993 Kelso played 99 games with the Bills, starting 95 of the games. Kelso ended his career with 30 interceptions, eight fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. Currently, Kelso is an Advancement Director at St. Mary’s High School and color analyst for the Buffalo Bills on WGR 550. Mark recently took the time to sit down with us at Queen City Sports to talk about two of his passions: Guardian Caps and the Buffalo Bills!

Mark Kelso had a terrific career in Buffalo, but he knows that’s not what he’s remembered for. Instead, when Kelso’s name is brought up the first thing people remember was his “bubble helmet,” a nickname for the ProCap that he wore. Kelso shared that he was coming off of two major concussions and a famous Bills trainer was to thank for prolonging his career.

Eddie Abramowski, the Bills trainer at that time, and a training legend, had an acquaintance named Bert Straus.  He called Abe and said, ‘Hey I got something that might help Mark Kelso.’ Abe liked it and there had been research done at Wayne State University and Penn State Biomechanics Lab. The reports said that this is something that can help mitigate forces. Abe had tremendous medical experience and felt this would be advantageous to me. They pretty much gave me an ultimatum. Basically, I wouldn’t be cleared to play without this extra protection on my helmet. I’m grateful for it and grateful to Abe and Bud Carpenter, the assistant trainer at the time. My long-term health was being considered and they said I basically had to wear it, so I wore it and had some success with it. It allowed me to play with the aggression I was accustomed to without being fearful of another injury. I wore it with great success for the last five years of my career. The ProCap saved my career. I had a young family at the time and wouldn’t continue to play if I would have continued to suffer concussions.

The Pro Cap, which greatly helped extend Kelso’s career is a separate entity from the product he’s currently promoting, Guardian Caps, but many of the ideas from the Guardian Caps came from the ProCap.

The Guardian Caps are a separate entity from the ProCap. Guardian Caps came out of some discussions about, ‘Why don’t we make something for practice?’ There were so many incidents of concussions at practice due to skill work and contact drills. At practice you’re working on things that replicate things in a game. This exposed younger kids to concussive types of injuries. Guardian Caps had extensive conversations with Bert Straus and I and other other that knowledge of ProCap, or understood what the testing had proved about having an energy management system on the exterior of a helmet as opposed to the polycarbonate exterior that most hard shelled helmets have. Guardian’s technology was born out of the ProCap. The two have a relationship, not contractual, but concepts and ideas from the ProCap led to the birth of the Guardian Caps.

What exactly is the Guardian Cap? Visiting their website,www.guardiancaps.com, will give you extensive knowledge on the cap and how it benefits football players. Mark added the following:

The Guardian Cap

The Guardian Cap

Guardian Caps are one size fits all. They’re easy to engage and disengage from the helmet and they fit right over a helmet. They were intended initially to be used at practice to protect kids and have them go into their football contests healthy. We’ve received tremendous results. I’m a huge advocate of soft shell technology. Guardian caps, produced by the Hanson Group, understands that it matters how you layer the materials. If you put an energy management system on the exterior of the hard shell that you create the best possible protection mechanism for helmet technology. The Hanson group is a material science group, like BASF. They take products and make them better, which is currently what they’re doing with their energy management system. The Hanson group is full of quality people and they treat their group like a family owned business. They have genuine concern over head injuries. There are a lot of other potential uses of the Guardian Caps in other sports as well.
Youth football players and high school football players aren’t the only people taking advantage of the Guardian Caps. The University of South Carolina became the first Division I football team to use the protective device. Kelso said, they too gave Guardian Caps a glowing recommendation.
South Carolina used the helmet at Spring practice and we received great reviews from everyone in the program. It’s all about energy management. You have to slow down the force somehow. Force is mass times acceleration. Mass isn’t being reduced as players are getting bigger and bigger. That leaves reducing the acceleration which is velocity over time. Having a pad that compresses, well that slows the force of the hit before it gets to your head or brain. We have to do something to slow down the acceleration forces. It’s disappointing that it’s taken this long to debunk myths about padding on the outside of the helmet.
When asked to elaborate on the myths, Kelso pointed me in the direction of a Bloomberg article that explains how the Pro Cap was quashed by the NFL and Riddell. Kelso named Dr. Elliot Pellman as one person who started myths on the Pro Cap.
For way too long, myths were perpetuated by others. Dr. Elliot Pellman, a rheumatologist and New York Jets team doctor, wrote a letter to then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1995 saying, ‘The Penn State results confirmed our greatest fears about head and neck injuries.” Dr. Richard Nelson, founder of Penn State’s Biomechanics Laboratory, was highly-respected in the field and in reply to Pellman said, ‘It is incredible that such a conclusion can be drawn when, in fact, the results show the exact opposite.’
Kelso knows that someone was wrong in the ProCap matter.
Someone didn’t have their facts straight. I always had success with it. Steve Wallace of the 49ers also had great success with it and wore it for an extended period of time. Randy Dixon of the Colts wore it as well. Some of my teammates even wore the ProCap with success. Ray Bentley wore it for a game or two, Don Beebe wore it as well. There is a lot of advocacy for this and I believe the helmet industry is going to change in the next 24 months. I think we’ll see helmets that have energy management system on the exterior of the hard shell. The NFL will never require players to wear something, but they will allow players who ask to Guardian Caps after seeing the medical testing and were convinced of its medical effectiveness.

While Kelso believes the NFL is behind on its helmet safety, he does credit them for their work with USA Football.

The NFL is helping USA Football’s initiative across youth sports. There needs to be consistency on tackling, skill work, how they’re going to describe it and how to tackle without engaging their head. The NFL helping is really willing to help out. Everyone should check out USA Football.

As for Kelso’s other passion, the Buffalo Bills, he talked about how close he still is with many of his other teammates.
 I don’t talk with them all frequently, but we still have close relationships. I believe there were 22 guys that played in all four Super Bowls. It’s great when you see them. It’s like a college reunion. You pick up right where you left off. We all have families and wonder how everyone’s kids are doing. There are a lot of guys in the area. Jim, Thurman and Steve all live in the area. Guys who played after us are around too. David White is over at Fredonia University and Marlon Kerner is still in the area. A great contingent of veterans too like Ed Rutkowski, Booker Edgerson, Charley Ferguson and Harry Jacobs all lived around Western New York as well. We’re a close-knit group and the Bills did a nice job of keeping their alumni in Western New York. They inform us on what’s going on and want us around the building and around the younger guys to share the traditions.
Unfortunately, the Bills haven’t had the success that Kelso and his teammates had in the early 90′s. When asked why the Bills have struggled for over the last decade Mark couldn’t pinpoint just one reason for the team’s struggles.
It’s a myriad of reasons. Players have underperformed, we’ve missed on some players. Mike Williams out of Texas for example. You draft a left tackle in the first round and you expect him to be your left tackle and part of your organization for ten years. The team has done a terrific job marketing and creating an excitement in the community to engage themselves in the community, but the performance on the field has not been up to the level that they have expected over the years.
When asked if a lack of a franchise quarterback is one of the main reasons, Kelso said:
A lot of that is due to the lack of a franchise quarterback. You have to have a guy at that position who can lead your team. Teams that have it have had a lot of success and teams that don’t have had very limited success over the years. There have been a lot of great athletes in here that had tremendous assets in some respect or another but they didn’t have the complete package apparently. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a lot of skills that I thought were great, but you know maybe it wasn’t the right people surrounding him, or there’s just some things he wasn’t able to do that I think he was capable of doing but didn’t get done. You can go down the list. The common denominator has been the lack of a guy at the QB position who has been capable of continuously and consistently producing you know really top notch performances and consistent performance across the years in leading his team to victory.
Kelso stressed that continuity is the key to Buffalo finding success.

You have to have continuity. They’ve had discontinuity in a lot of places. The coaching staffs for example and bringing in new coaches over the years. It doesn’t seem that they give a guy more than three to four years and sometimes I don’t think that’s long enough, but they seem to have a plan in place now.

This season, Kelso feels there is plenty of talent on the offensive side of the ball.
The talent pool in training camp will be the best I’ve seen in the last seven to eight years. A lot of young wide receiver talent and veteran quarterback leadership in Kevin Kolb. If the Bills have two healthy running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson they’ll have the best tandem in the NFL. At tight end, there is some concern with Scott Chandler’s injury. If he recovers fully, that position is solidified. Lee Smith is a great blocking option and can be productive on third down. On the offensive line, the team feels they can adequately replace Andy Levitre. Offensively they look like they can be a really good team.
Credit: BuffaloBils.com

Kelso likes what Pettine’s aggressive defense. Credit: buffalobills.com


On the defensive side of the ball, Kelso is equally as excited, if not more. When I asked him about Mike Pettine’s defense he talked about the difference from last year’s defense to the what he thinks this year’s defense will look like.

I’m a big fan of moving your defensive lineman. Pettine will move his lineman with stunts and twists. Mario Williams will be moved around a lot. Mark Anderson, if healthy, will have a productive pass rush year. Coach Wannstedt has a tremendous pedigree in this league but for whatever reason last season he was reluctant to do that. I think part of that was that he didn’t want to expose his young corner Gilmore and force him to cover. I feel that Gilmore will be one of the top cover guys in the league. McKelvin is a tremendous talent. He hasn’t performed as capably at cornerback as he could, but I think this coaching staff will draw that out of him.
Kelso then talked about the linebacker position:
Nigel Bradham is going to be special. That guy they got from Cincinnati, Lawson, is going to be productive as well. They drafted Alonso with a high pick so I expect a lot of productivity out of him as well.
Kelso was asked about Aaron Williams’ move to safety and on Jairus Byrd. Here is what he had to say.
Moving Aaron was a good move. He could be a great Cover-2 corner. He has the skill-set that lends to that or to being a safety. He has a learning curve to eclipse. People think you just back pedal and read the quarterback but there’s so many different things to look at. You have to be able to tackle in the open field. I think he’ll have a really good chance to make an impact there, but he can’t focus on one part of the field.
I think Byrd will sign his tender. I’d be surprised, and quite frankly disappointed, if he wasn’t here to open training camp with this team. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t here. He’s a young man of high character and he’s been a big part of this team and quite frankly he’s the leader of this team. He needs to be here for this team so they can be successful in 2013.
Before wrapping up the interview, Kelso did say that the Bills need to be careful about blitzing in 2013.
As Marv used to say, ‘Live by the blitz, die by the blitz.’ If you have guys that don’t put themselves in an advantageous situation on alignment or if they aren’t where they need to be when the ball is snapped then the offense can have the advantage, even when you’re bringing pressure. Disguise too much and you’ll get yourselves into trouble. If bringing four doesn’t work. Bring five. If that doesn’t work, try something else. You have to do something.
Thanks again to Mark Kelso and be sure to check out GuardianCaps.com!
Ryan Talbot


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