Vikings using STRIVR virtual-reality cameras

MANKATO, Minn. -- It would be difficult to put Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer among the NFL's avant-garde. The 59-year-old doesn't have a Twitter account. He spends his downtime hunting instead of skydiving and discusses with much skepticism his quarterback's long-standing habit of using video games as a study tool.

But the Vikings became one of the first teams to put virtual-reality cameras on their practice fields after a meeting with STRIVR Labs piqued the second-year coach's interest. The team has used the technology during its first two training camp practices, and Zimmer thinks it could be a valuable tool for second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the rest of his young team.

"It's a little bit of, 'the jury's still out,' but I think with the age of guys that we have now, the video games, all the things they have -- Teddy really liked it when he saw it, and people that we've talked to really like it," Zimmer said. "It's really another way for them to get a bunch of reps. If you ever get a chance to look at it -- you put these goggles on, and you're in the room, you look to the right, you see the right corner, the safety, you see the receivers running a route. You look to the left, same thing. You see everything moving, just like you would be out on the field. It's a way for them to get some more reps. We've got some ideas for how we want to use it during the season to prepare for teams to give them extra reps."

The Vikings join the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots as teams known to be working with STRIVR, a company out of Stanford University. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are using EON Sports, a competitor of STRIVR's that simulates on-field action rather than using practice tape. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also made a recent visit to Stanford to experience the technology for himself.

STRIVR's technology allows players to study film in an immersive fashion, with the camera recording 360 degrees from wherever it's placed on the field.

Zimmer was cool to the idea when general manager Rick Spielman first mentioned it to him during the 2014 season. He became more curious about it when STRIVR emailed him this year, and the Vikings now have two 360-degree virtual-reality cameras. On Monday, he sounded intent on putting the technology to frequent use in 2015.

"You can't get game film with it, but we can choreograph it in practice. For instance, say Dallas in the preseason: We'd put all the Dallas defenders' jerseys on there and work the blitz period. So [Bridgewater] sees their blitzes over and over, and in seven-on-seven, the different run fronts they have, and make checks off of them. It's a chance for them to play the game a few times before they play the game."

Asked about Bridgewater's use of "Madden NFL" video games on his Xbox to study, Zimmer said, "I don't know that really is very realistic. This is realistic -- it really is realistic. He can actually turn around and watch himself throw the ball -- watch his footwork, where his arm is and all this stuff. The camera's sitting right here, and he drops back -- it's 360 [degrees]. It sees everything. In the goggles, if he wants to turn around and watch himself throw, he can do that."

The Vikings still have a few details to iron out; a back knocked over one of the cameras while trying to pick up a blitz during Monday morning's walk-through, and Zimmer wasn't quite sure about the name of the Vikings' new gadgets.

"I don't know -- I call it 'VR,'" he said.

However he refers to it, Zimmer seems ready for a turn as an early adopter.

"Honestly, I think it could be good for the offensive line," Zimmer said. "If you put it where the center is, you can see the movement of the defense, the calls you have to make, different things -- where people have to slide to in protection. We're messing around with it a little bit."