IRVING, Texas –From drones to virtual reality technology, the Cowboys clearly aren't satisfied with last year's 12-4 record and NFC East title. They're trying new cutting-edge methods to enhance film preparation and player development.
The Cowboys have used drones to help film practice since the rookie minicamp in early May, a technique used by the SMU football program that gives players and coaches a closer look at all 22 players (11 offense and 11 defense) on the field.
"Oftentimes you have to kind of pull yourself away to get the all-22 (players) shot," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "This allows you to get a little closer so you can coach better. You can see hand placement, you see where they have their feet, where they have their eyes. I think that's important. You can look at that and coach them better being that much closer to the action."
In addition, the Cowboys have reconstructed a sound-proof room within their video department to accommodate its new virtual reality technology, developed by former Stanford kicker Derek Belch and StriVR Labs and now in use at several college programs.
Particularly beneficial to backup quarterbacks who get minimal real-time reps, players can do more than watch traditional practice film from distance angles. They can virtually place themselves back in that setting and watch a 360-view of practice complete with sound via headset.
Backup quarterback Brandon Weeden says on average an NFL backup might get four 7-on-7 reps and a couple team drill reps a week. He got more practice work last year with starter Tony Romo resting his surgically-repaired back on Wednesdays.
But with Romo healthier and fully participating in OTAs, this type of practice simulation behind center, including the ability to hear the calls Romo makes at the line of scrimmage, is "invaluable," Weeden says.
"You can rewind it as many times as you want and really get a grasp of fine tuning each play," he said. "Out there (on the field) it happens so fast, you're kind of running plays and it's rapid fire. In there it gives you the ability to rewind it, really understand it.
"They're on to something. It's a cool deal."
Garrett, a former backup quarterback to Troy Aikman in the '90s, said for 25 years he's thought about the advantages such technology could offer players. Now it's here, and he thinks it can help players at positions besides quarterback. Linebackers, for instance, must make calls and checks on the defensive side of the ball, too.
"For a lot of backup players, we emphasize doing whatever you can do to get yourself ready, whether it's extra tape, extra time on the game plan," Garrett said. "For quarterbacks, turn the radio off, turn the cell phone off when you're driving around town, call the plays out loud, visualize yourself breaking the huddle, going to the line of scrimmage, making Mike (linebacker) IDs, pointing out guys on defense, putting yourself in that place. That's been something we've emphasized for a long, long time, calling out reps.
"This virtual reality system that we have in place here with the Cowboys is a good tool for us to take the next step in regards to that. We've been working to lay a foundation over the last few weeks, and it's been a tool that I think is going to be helpful for us as we go forward."