The NFL is allowing coaches and players to use video on the Microsoft Surface tablets rather than just still photos for the Pro Bowl in Honolulu on Sunday.
A perfect opportunity to experiment with changes, the Pro Bowl is where the lengthier extra-point kicks were first tried.
Videos were available during preseason games last summer and generally met with strong support from players and coaches.
“We went to Microsoft, which developed a system we are testing today for all coaches and players to see how they like it, and how they work it into the game,” said Michelle McKenna, the NFL’s senior vice-president and chief technology officer. “Microsoft has provided an amazing device to stand up to (weather challenges). We learned a lot about how we have to standardize it on every sideline, have a standard setup for technology.
“It has been very successful so far,” she added of the use of still photos on the sideline tablets. “When you roll out any technology, you want to make sure it works. If you go to the trouble of planning a game around it, make sure (everyone) knows how to use it. It was slow acceptance at first, but this year, nearly every player and coach was using it to pinch and zoom and illustrate. A great teaching tool, and video, it is the next step.
“We will always try to evolve the sideline.”
Also planned for use Sunday is an upgraded coaches-to-coaches communications system for each team. The league has had some issues this season with the current system, which has been in use for a decade.
Some people blamed the problems on the headsets, but the real difficulty has been in the actual system in place.
The new, digital and encrypted communications have been tested on non-game personnel in all 31 stadiums.
“We have had challenges for the last several years with frequency congestion,” McKenna noted. “Sometimes coaches have had to go on a wire, and then someone has to follow him around. That’s been due to frequency interference on the wireless. And when you go to wired communications, it’s typical when there is bad weather or water saturates into those wires, you can get interference.
“We’re looking for a very reliable wireless system so we very rarely have to go to a wire, and when we do go to wire, it is sent over the Internet, which is much more reliable.”
Use of either the Surface tablet videos or coaches’ communications system for games that count must be approved by ownership at league meetings in either March or May. The powerful competition committee will first consider adaptation of each in February before making recommendations to the owners.
“There will be healthy debate on the competition committee,” McKenna said. “Video on the sideline will be a big game changer for how you coach the game.”
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