Earlier this offseason, a few months back, I wrote an article about the potential usefulness of virtual reality training tools, and the hypothetical interest that might exist among NFL teams for such a tool, although at the time it did not seem as though the idea was immediately heading anywhere.
The main subject of that article as it pertains to its feasibility of use within the NFL was the New Orleans Saints and their head coach, Sean Payton, who wished to at least brainstorm the possibility of using such a tool for backup quarterbacks, who simply don’t get the necessary reps in practice behind the starter.
“How do you get those guys snaps, real-time snaps?”, he wondered, which is an even more pertinent question for him after the Saints drafted a quarterback in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft that they mean to develop for a potential future as a starter down the line.
Payton compared the concept to that of pilot training, as pilots are required to go through an extensive virtual training regimen during their orientation in addition to logging many hours of real-time flight experience. The equivalent of a flight simulator for NFL players has become an intriguing idea.
This offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have become the first team to formally dip their toes into this pool, after working out a deal with StriBR Labs, a tech company that focuses on virtual reality simulation.
re/Code writes that the Cowboys struck a two-year deal “to train all of its quarterbacks using a VR headset”, using which, “players see a live-action 3-D video replay of a football play from the quarterback’s perspective, and can review that play from a first-person view over and over, looking in any direction”.
Eric Johnson notes that StrVR’s software is not yet interactive, and is currently geared toward providing players first-person scenarios that will help coaches evaluate their understanding of their surroundings as well as their decision-making.
He notes that this tool, developed by former Stanford kicker Derek Belch, has already been used at the college level, including by his own university, in addition to programs such as Auburn, Arkansas, and Clemson.
Todd Archer writes for ESPN that the Cowboys have installed a new room for their virtual reality system for use by their players. The system can be used by both quarterbacks and defenders to understand the decision-making process involved in the position.
While the use of virtual reality tools within the world of professional sports as a formal training exercise is in its infancy, it does have the potential to become standard practice in the future, and it will be interesting to monitor the Cowboys’ usage of the system.
Archer writes that other teams have already considered using the StriVR system, and if the Cowboys manage to find some success using it, you can be sure that copycats will begin to jump on board.