National Football League
Broncos embrace iPad playbook, video
National Football League

Broncos embrace iPad playbook, video

Published Jul. 5, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

One morning before an offseason workout, Peyton Manning is thumbing through his playbook.

Unlike previous years, the four-time NFL MVP had everything he needed to study in his hands.

That’s because he wasn’t holding 500 pages of bound paper. Manning was cradling a nifty iPad3.

“Peyton loves it,” Broncos video director Steve Boxer said. “He was one of the first guys I dropped video into an iPad for.”


Using the iPad is not mandatory this season, but Boxer told The Daily last month that 90 percent of the roster has made the switch from paper to tablet as Denver sheds a 500-pound playbook and DVDs by streamlining both into a single app on 130 iPads with 64 gigabytes of data.

The app has three main features — game film, playbook and notifications.

“It’s easier for the video guys to send it to all the different players, and it’s a great way to study for these guys,” Manning told reporters. “There’s no excuse not to have the playbook and the game film to study.”

Said receiver Eric Decker: “I think, for us new-tech-era kids, it’s nice, because it’s all in one system. You take notes on it, you can load up film, you got your playbook. So it’s a one-stop shop.”

The convenience of a football app on an iPad could make players more studious, and the Broncos aren’t the only team catching on. The Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers began using an app instead of a traditional playbook last season. The Miami Dolphins began using iPads this offseason, but with a caveat: Players will be fined $10,000 if they check out “unauthorized” websites.

Still, players might be busy watching film. The video presentation is familiar to the Broncos, as the app uses the DVSport program, which the players and most of the league already use. Last month, the Broncos ran through their first mandatory minicamp practice, with a camera capturing the action roughly 30 feet above the fields. An hour later, while players were in meetings or eating, that footage was uploaded as MP4 files.

From his desktop, Boxer showed The Daily that Decker and his teammates each had a separate download folder, as well as offense, defense and special teams. If a player wanted a specific “cut-up” of an opponent, it’s dropped into his folder and then uploaded into the iPad within an hour.

A Colorado-based company called PlayerLync created the app, which appropriately features a Broncos logo. A key aspect of the software is the automatic updates. When the coaches and video department drop video into the system, the iPads are loaded wherever the players are in the facility (there are wireless hotspots on ceilings throughout the building), and they can complete downloads at home provided they have wireless service.

The notifications portion of the app is like a souped-up to-do list. Things like schedules, travel itineraries and nutritionist meal programs are listed there. When a team meeting is about to start, a notice pops up like an instant message.

The playbook section is dense, interactive and, arguably, the most important. In the app, players and coaches can write notes, and highlight Xs and Os using the tablet screen. Those playbooks are then saved on the Broncos server. As the season progresses and the coaches alter plays for a specific opponent, those updates will be loaded into the tablets.

The league office is also adapting to the tablet world. Until this season, the NFL stipulated all electronic devices must be removed from locker rooms 90 minutes prior to kickoff. Now the league will allow devices like the iPad to be used up until kickoff, but not after. Commissioner Roger Goodell told SI’s Peter King recently the sport is considering using iPads and other tablets during games to test players for concussions this season.

Still, the always-paranoid league coaches are concerned about a playbook slipping into the hands of an opponent, or more embarrassingly, the public. Last month, linebacker D.J. Williams was ripped by social media for tweeting a playbook page, though his teammates and coach said publicly it was not an issue.

“We’ve addressed that, and I think our players do a great job with social media,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “You’re not going to go through a whole season unscathed, and the world has gotten a lot smaller, but, overall, I think our guys do a great job.”

If a player loses his iPad, Boxer said, there are security measures in place that prevent its contents from being seen. After an hour there are two pass codes needed to view the data, and the Broncos can erase everything on the device remotely.

Not everyone is sold on the iPad. Cornerback Champ Bailey, heading into his 14th NFL season, admitted that during minicamp he brought a notebook and the tablet into meetings, and preferred to write on paper. The Broncos told the players during organized team activities that the playbooks and DVD films would still be available.

Yet Bailey added the iPad intrigues younger players, who are still learning how to prepare week to week. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller, for example, is a tech enthusiast, using a state-of-the-art camera to film his entire first season. The quicker the youngsters adapt to the pro game, the cornerback offered, the better the club will be.

“The more you make things easier for yourself, the more you are inclined to do it,” Bailey said. “When I came into the league, we were still looking at the VHS tapes, taking them home and everything. And then they converted it into DVD. After that, they started putting some film on the iPads. Now we’re getting everything on the iPads.

“That’s technology, man. The world is changing, and we got to change with it.”


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