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Steelers experiment with new technology

Posted May 19, 2016

The Steelers are experimenting with some of the newest technology in football.

When you hear “MVP” in sports, the one thing you immediately think of is most valuable player.

But a new technology has football players thinking something different when they hear “MVP.”

Mobile Virtual Player
, a robotic dummy that is operated by remote control, is the newest technology introduced into football, something developed and first implemented at Dartmouth College, and is now being experimented with by the Steelers during offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

“It’s an awesome piece of football technology,” said Coach Mike Tomlin. “I am always interested in ways to utilize technology in terms of teaching football. We are excited to get a close look at it.

“The applications we are quickly finding are endless. It never gets tired. It runs at an appropriate football speed. All of the position groups are getting an opportunity to use it. It’s funny, you just put it on the field and watch the guys and they show you the applications. It’s been fun watching that.”

The idea for the “MVP” came to life after Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens banned live tackling in practice because of injuries. But the importance of tackling still was at the forefront, so engineers at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering went to work.

What they came up with is the “MVP” that can be used by players to practice tackling, but also can be used in passing drills, as a running back and other methods, which is what the Steelers have been using it for off the bat.

The “MVP” has the ability to cut, weave, stop and start, and it has speed. The version the Steelers are experimenting with is still in the testing phase, and the goal is to have it available in 2017.

“We were tasked with how can we practice tackling without utilizing another player,” said Elliot Kastner, a former defensive tackle for Dartmouth who is the co-founder/director of research and development for Mobile Virtual Player.  “What it comes down to is repetitive impact on players is what we are trying to eliminate. We realized the safest thing to do is pull one of those players out of the drill. It was introduced to reduce player on player contact.”

Tomlin said he had heard about it a year ago, and pursed it through Danny Rooney, a member of the Steelers' staff who played football at Dartmouth.

“The players are generally open, particularly this time of year, to new things,” said Tomlin. “We always try to challenge them with some new tool that will help them grow and develop, and they are always looking for new tools to help them grow and develop. I think they are excited.

“I imagine it’s a great tool from a tackling tech standpoint. In today’s NFL, with player safety the focus that it is, I think it’s going to provide opportunities to improve in that area without the hand to hand or man to man combat associated with that teaching.”

At first glance seeing the dummy moving freely across the field was odd for the players, but they got used to having it out there.

“It’s pretty neat contraption,” said defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “Being able to chase it opens our mind and opens us a little bit. It’s faster than we think, faster than it looks. You realize it’s fast when you have to catch up to it. You have to keep running. It’s a good visual effect of how a running back or receiver catches the ball on the sidelines to give us a pursuit and open us up and give us an angle to the ball.”