NFL starting to ditch old paper playbooks
By ARNIE STAPLETON
The Associated Press | September 07,2012
AP File Photo
Denver Broncos veteran wide receiver Andre Caldwell looks over the team’s playbook on a team-issued computer tablet as he walks off the training field at Broncos’ headquarters in Englewood, Colo. Players like the convenience of storing the playbook on computer tablets, which has prompted six NFL teams to retire the traditional printed book in favor of the computer screen.
DENVER — The days of lugging around 500-page playbooks and stacks of DVDs are over for half of the players in the NFL.
Their teams have gone digital, replacing the old-fashioned thick paper playbooks with iPads that put everything from X’s and O’s to notifications, scouting reports and video cut-ups at their fingertips.
“Technology is taking over the world and we’re just trying to keep up with it,” Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Graham Harrell said.
The number of teams using iPads for playbooks and game film has increased this season from two to 14. In the NFC, the Bears, Cardinals, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Panthers, Redskins and Seahawks are using the tablets as are the Bengals, Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Dolphins and Ravens in the AFC.
Other teams, such as the Chiefs, Titans and Saints, are using iPads for some things but haven’t completely abandoned three-ring binders, and the Bills are considering switching over next year, when the NFL makes game film available in high definition, coach Chan Gailey said.
The Ravens and Buccaneers were the first teams to go digital last year, although Tampa Bay returned to the traditional playbooks this season under a new coaching staff.
The top model iPads that feature 64 gigabytes of data and retail for $829 each are loaded with about $700 worth of programming, and most teams issue them to roughly 120 players, coaches, scouts and other personnel. That works out to roughly $180,000 per team.
Broncos video director Steve Boxer figures it will take about a year to begin realizing a cost savings from ditching the paper playbooks that consumed trees, money and manpower and kept copy machine repairmen on speed-dial.
Daily itinerary updates, diagrams and video are automatically pushed to each iPad so a player can have the video clips of a practice or game downloaded by the time he gets out of the shower. Because the video isn’t streaming, he can watch it on the airplane or at his apartment, whether or not he has a Wi-Fi connection.
Apps developed by PlayerLync in suburban Denver or Global Aptitude out of Baltimore allow players and coaches to highlight sections in yellow on the tablet’s touchscreen and to write notes with a stylus just as they would with a pencil on paper playbooks. Those notes are saved on servers and can be downloaded again at any time for future reference.
“I don’t think there’s any minuses unless you lose it and have to pay that fine,” Dallas defensive end Marcus Spears said.
One of the biggest concerns about the iPad is security, but teams are seeing that they’re safer than the paper ones that can be copied at Kinko’s.
If the playbooks are misplaced or stolen, they can be immediately and remotely wiped clean, said Greg Menard, co-founder of PlayerLync, the company that designed the app for the Broncos and several other NFL teams, along with those for Stanford’s football team and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
And all iPads have multi-layered password security systems. All data is securely stored on the teams’ own servers without a third party managing or maintaining the highly secretive information.
Of course, nothing’s ever 100 percent foolproof, a lesson the Broncos learned this summer when linebacker D.J. Williams tweeted a picture of his iPad screen that showed some basic defensive formations.
While millions of consumers have embraced iPads for both personal and business use since Apple Inc. introduced them a few years ago, the NFL is just catching up to the tablet technology.
For the first time this season, the league is allowing players and coaches to have access to their tablets up until they head out to the field for kickoff. Previously, they had to be removed from the locker room 90 minutes before the start of the game.
The league is also experimenting with the use of iPads by medical staffs on the sidelines this season, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
The Jets, Giants, Seahawks and 49ers are testing the devices to assist them in neurological testing and documentation and they may also be used for viewing X-rays and players’ medical records.
Ultimately, iPads also could replace the black-and-white paper printouts of plays you see coaches and players poring over on the sidelines between series.
Not surprisingly, some coaches have been slow to embrace the tablet technology.
“There’s some old-school guys who take a tremendous amount of pride in being old-school guys,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “I think in some ways that’s a rationalization. And I think we all fall into that sometimes.”
Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan enlisted his teenage son, Matt, to help him master the new tool. “He’s my iPad coach,” said Ryan, adding he’s glad “we aren’t lugging around 60-pound playbooks anymore.”
The iPads players slip into their backpacks weigh a little more than 1½ pounds, including the protective case.
Although half of the NFL’s teams are still using paper playbooks and DVDs, just about every locker in the league has an iPad in it.
“All these guys are techies anyway, because they’ve been doing this stuff growing up,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
Watching film has become so easy that players say they’re watching more of it.
“A lot of times right now, I’ll be lying in bed and I’ll pull my iPad out and scroll through some plays,” Harrell said. “I definitely think it makes watching film that much easier, and I think it’s going to make guys watch a lot more film and can help us out as a team.”
Some players who are still carrying around paper playbooks are pining for technology.
Saints linebacker Scott Shanle, whose team allows players to download video onto their own tablets, hopes the team goes all-in next year.
“I mean, right now, you flip through 300 pages of paper and with an iPad, you could do a search,” Shanle said. “It would pull up not only the X’s and O’s but video, as well. ... I think if you look at X’s and O’s and look at (video of) the play right after that, it’s a huge advantage.”
Boxer, the Broncos’ video director, said there was a pinnacle moment during training camp when he downloaded game film of the Seahawks’ preseason opener to all of his coaches’ iPads so they didn’t have to come in to work early on a Sunday morning to review the film at team headquarters.
“This was really the first time we were able to push video through the air,” Boxer said. “They were all smiling about it the next day, like how cool is this?”