April 22, 2020



Sundquist's Sports VTS QBSIM is a VR football training prototype that prioritizes quarterback instruction. It builds animated visuals like those used in flight simulators. Strivr, another VR device founded by former Stanford kicker Derek Belch, already counts eight NFL teams -- including the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers -- among its clients. Then there's Catapult Sports, whose technology is used by 30 NFL teams and a few hundred collegiate programs. Strivr and Catapult Sports record practice footage, primarily from the quarterback pocket, that later transports players onto the field in VR. Carson Palmer, Drew Brees, Case Keenum and others have praised VR training.

"The guys who really excel are the guys who develop all facets of the game, including their cognitive abilities and decision-making," says Michael Casale, Strivr's chief science officer. "Most guys just don't show up to the NFL with that ... So who are the guys who are really willing to learn, how quickly will they learn, etc.? ... Those are things we can uniquely measure in VR." [...]

The technology could help teams gain insights they don't currently have about quarterbacks. "This is a way to get all that information," says CBS college football analyst and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel. "You'd be astounded at how many coaches and players are out there that are still fooling people as to what they really know."

Coaches who taste success usually become fearful of disrupting a winning formula, says Sundquist. Then there's paranoia. Pac-12 and Power 5 college programs didn't embrace Strivr initially, worried the company might leak their playbooks to Stanford, where Strivr started. That changed once quarterbacks spoke out about the benefits of VR. "I am all in on this," Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has said about Strivr.

These VR tools don't tell teams exactly how quarterbacks will react on the field. Catapult Sports realized QBs were reading defenses and moving through progressions more quickly in VR than on the practice field. Eye-tracking software told them why. "In real life, after I look at the linebacker and I look at the safety, I have to look down at the center," says Ted Ellikson, product owner at Catapult. "We realized in VR, nobody had to look down and catch the ball."

Here lies Sports VTS's innovation: It puts the ball in the quarterback's hands and demands they throw it and move their feet. OptiTrack cameras, used recently in Disney's The Lion King, surround the player, following his movements and the flight of the ball in real life.

You can measure against any defense imaginable, to understand a quarterback's true operating system. Can your QB find weaknesses in quarters coverage? What about Cover-2? A partnership with Pro Football Focus allows Sports VTS software to use PFF data from past NFL games. Test your quarterback against the New England Patriots defense in a two-minute drill or face the Seattle Seahawks Legion of Boom. Or insert a player into a scenario designed to confuse him.

"All that's not subjective, it's just data," says Mike Wagle, CEO of Sports VTS.

Posted by at April 22, 2020 12:00 AM