Vikings starting virtual reality in practice

The Vikings are getting their first post-practice taste of virtual reality plays from training camp.

Shaun Hill started to take gather his offensive huddle before a 7-on-7 play at Sunday’s practice as he would at any of the other 13 training camps he had attended.

This time, however, there was an odd request of Hill from one of the Minnesota Vikings coaches: “Huddle around the camera.” This wasn’t just an opportunity for the Vikings Entertainment Network to capture Hill making a play call in the huddle. This was preparation for full-play replay Sunday night, hours after practice had ended.

Welcome to the point in your career you never thought you’d see, Mr. Hill, the age of virtual reality meets the NFL reality.

The Vikings are one of several NFL teams reportedly using STRIVR Labs and their new virtual reality for football teams, a list that includes the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks. The cameras at the top of a tripod record the action as the quarterback would see it in a 360-degree view. After practice, the quarterbacks can go back to their meeting room and put on a set of goggles and relive every play from that practice just as it happened from the quarterback’s perspective. Turn around with the goggles on and you can see your running back(s). Scan to either side to see where your receivers are located.

“I haven’t put the goggles on and watched what we did out there yet, but I never really thought I’d see the day,” Hill said after Sunday’s practice.

That day has arrived, thanks to Derek Belch, a former Stanford kicker who is the founder and CEO of STRIVR Labs. Stanford, of course, in the heart of Silicon Valley, has already used the technology.

“It’s like watching a 3D movie. When you put this headset on, you’re in it. You are in the play. You’re experiencing it,” Stanford coach David Shaw told Pac 12 Networks.

One of the big benefits is that each of the Vikings’ four quarterbacks can relive every snap of practice, not just the snaps that quarterback took.

“It will be great because I’ll be able to take Teddy’s reps and I’ll be able to go in and I’ll be able to take Mike’s reps. I’ll be able to take all those reps, whereas when you’re standing behind (the play), you’re watching and you’re trying to do it as good as you can mentally, but it’s not like being out there and seeing what they see. Also, you can get coached off of it, too: ‘Look at this look. You’ve got to be looking over there.’ They can see what we’re looking at,” Hill said.

“What it’s going to do is it’s going to allow us to take reps without physically throwing the ball or physically taking the drops, but mentally going through it. So you’re going to be able to take those reps as if we’re going to be out there. We’re going to be able to do it multiple times, far more than we would ever be able to physically do.”

With NFL rules limiting the amount of time coaches can spend on the field with their players, STRIVR’s virtual reality system allows the quarterbacks to get virtual reps in the meeting rooms or even their own dorm rooms.

“As far as what it can do, we’re looking at literally taking the practice experience and bringing it off the practice field,” Belch told “I’m in no way, shape or form ever going to denounce the importance of physical reps, but the reality is NFL teams are increasingly limited in the amount of time they’re able to spend on the field, and we’re giving these guys a chance to simulate, just like they’re there.”

The Vikings are just getting started with the project. The system arrived in Mankato Saturday, the night before their first training camp practice. Hill hadn’t had a chance to use the system and Belch was hurrying off the field Sunday to get the post-practice application set up.

Hill hadn’t even heard about the possibility until Saturday night. Of course, for a quarterback that’s been around the NFL for more than a decade, the technological advances are staggering.

“My first year in the NFL with the Vikings we were still using Beta tape so we hadn’t gotten into computers until my second year and that’s when we finally had the digital film to watch,” Hill said. “Of course, that’s the eye-in-the-sky perspective, it’s not the quarterback’s eye level like this tape will be.”

As players and coaches rushed off the field Saturday, no one seemed exactly sure just how beneficial the virtual reality technology would be, but they seemed intrigued, even someone like Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator with four decades of NFL experience.

“It’s just another tool to give those guys another look,” Turner said. “Obviously, people think it’s exclusive to quarterbacks, but I think it can help in a number of different positions. We’re just getting started with it.”

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