While the NFL may be waiting on mobile device improvements before further incorporating VR into its broadcasts, the league is opening up its virtual doors for improvements in other areas. They’re utilizing the technology to potentially better diagnose concussions and, as we reported in early January, they’re in the early stages of developing VR training materials for their referees. With the NFL season wrapped up after the Superbowl, teams are evaluating young college players that are looking to earn coveted roster space on a team and one the biggest names in the NFL draft spent a chunk of his training on a virtual football field.
On FoxSports.com, writer Bruce Feldman chatted with multiple head coaches in the NCAA about the impact VR has had on their training regimens. Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney and Temple coach Matt Rhule both spoke highly of VR, with Rhule even attributing two seasons of 10+ wins to VR’s inclusion in their training program.
“I think the eyes are one of those untrained aspects of football,” he says. “Everybody talks about ‘speed’ and how fast a guy is but it’s also about recognizing plays and structure, and I think instincts can be learned and taught, so that intangible thing becomes tangible.”
Recognizing certain plays is something Clemson’s NCAA champion QB Deshaun Watson, who’s projected to be chosen in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, can attribute to his VR training as he spent 40% of his time in the immersive format learning how to recognize and pick-up blitzes. Watson and Clemson took on the University of Alabama in the most recent title game and, when facing the blitz from the defending champs in the final quarter, Watson completed 6 of 7 passes with two touchdowns.
“I didn’t know what to expect early on from (the VR), but it’s been great for us,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says. “We’ve learned how to maximize the efficiency of it. Deshaun might go through yesterday’s blitz script. (Linebacker) Ben Boulware can go in and practice without having to practice. Sometimes a guy who is hurt can still get mental reps. There’s just so many uses for it. It’s been a great teaching tool.”
While the NFL may be welcoming a QB partially molded by VR, it’s not known if he’ll continue to utilize it with his next team. Clemson, however, is already grooming Watson’s successor by having him split time meeting with his QB coach and going through concepts in VR. Though the value of physical talent won’t be diminishing, it’s going to be interesting to see how a generation of players sharpened by VR do over time.