Saints go futuristic with cryotherapy chambers, virtual-reality cameras

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The New Orleans Saints’ training camp is starting to resemble a set from a science-fiction movie, with players and coaches going into cryotherapy chambers and players watching film through virtual-reality headsets.

Those are among two innovations the Saints and other NFL teams are experimenting with this summer as they look for any edge they can get.

The cryotherapy chambers are the modern alternative to the classic ice bath. They only take three minutes and don’t come with the initial shock of climbing into a tub of ice-cold water.

Payton said he climbed in himself on Friday morning – though some Saints players like Akiem Hicks and C.J. Spiller said they still prefer the old-school method.

“Three minutes in there – and that’s not necessarily easy, but I would say it’s easier than sitting in a punch bowl,” said Payton, who added that the team has introduced inflatable pressurized wraps as another way to aid in recovery. “The key during camp, even during the season, I think, is just utilizing the technology to get the blood back in their legs. That can be transitioning from cold to hot, that can be in the cryo and that can be in the pressure wraps. All of those things we’re trying to take advantage of, especially during these training camp practices.”

The virtual-reality cameras are even more next-level. Payton said the Saints invited a company to bring them on the field for the first time Friday to record practices from a 360-degree angle.

The Saints are one of at least six NFL teams known to be trying out the new technology this summer, along with the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers and Minnesota Vikings, among possible others.

When players review the film, they can look left, right and even behind them to see everything happening on the field at any moment. It’s very close to the kind of simulator training Payton envisioned when he spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference earlier this year.

Quarterback Luke McCown said he and Drew Brees were playing around with the headsets Thursday night – even getting a glimpse of what others see on the field.

"Drew put it on and he said, 'Line up like you're Zach Strief and pretend like you're blocking J.J. Watt,’” said McCown, who said the technology can benefit linebackers, safeties, tackles, ends and receivers as well as quarterbacks.

“It never ceases to amaze me what technology is bringing to our game,” McCown said. “You’re dealing with real bodies. You’re not dealing with digital images or Madden characters. So your spatial awareness is better in terms of seeing a linebacker drop or a safety rotate or how an angle on a particular route bends. So from that standpoint, the concept is very good. We’ll see where it goes from there.”