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Is game film coming to the sidelines?

Posted Mar 2, 2016

Maximizing on tablet technology during games still under review

GREEN BAY – Watching game film the next day is part of any NFL player’s regular routine.

Might it soon be just as routine to study film on the sideline during games?

Mike McCarthy won’t be surprised if that happens sooner than later. Last year, the NFL experimented with game film being available on the sideline on electronic tablets during the Pro Bowl and the preseason.

“I think history will tell you if you’re trying something out in preseason games, it’s coming,” McCarthy said last week at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Nothing is imminent, at least not yet, and the league would have to formalize any such change for the regular season at one of the owners’ meetings this spring.

But the positive reviews over the past two seasons of the traditional still images being available electronically on tablets – rather than on the old black-and-white printouts – has many wondering if the next technological step should be taken.

The introduction of sideline tablets in 2014 increased the in-game information available to players and coaches in multiple ways.

For one, instead of just a pre-snap and post-snap shot, two additional photos of each play unfolding have been available on the tablets. Also, as electronic files, those photos can be blown up if there’s something worth zooming in on.

“It’s a huge improvement just for the details,” McCarthy said. “You still have to have the communication from the players.”

Live feedback from the players themselves as to “what the hell’s going on out there,” to borrow from Vince Lombardi, is still needed, but even McCarthy admitted the players aren’t always accurate in the heat of the moment. Going from two black-and-white stills to four electronic images has reduced the doubt, and a jump to actual film on the sideline would effectively remove it.

But would that be good for the game, or would it take away the advantage teams can gain from doing more homework during the week? Would the players, particularly quarterbacks, who tirelessly study film of their opponents in advance of Sundays have their edge in preparation diminished in any way?

“Parity, right?” McCarthy suggested. “It’s a philosophical approach by the National Football League, whether it’s the (salary) cap or the game. Anytime they can make it as equal as possible, it’s more in-game education, that’s fine. Players still have to process it in real time.”

What McCarthy does see is more adjustments by players and coaches as games unfold. That brand new route combination or blitz package revealed on the opening third down of the game has less chance of working again later. Not when the film of the full play can be viewed as soon as the series ends and the players head over to the sideline.

Maybe the potential change would just encourage teams to put more unscouted looks in their game plans. If full film review speeds up the development of a counter strategy, then the next countermove gets called that much quicker.

“I think anytime you’re given more information to make an adjustment, it increases the chess match,” McCarthy said.

“I’m not opposed to it. I’m not saying we need it. I’m not saying, ‘Hey, let’s do it,’ but I’m not opposed to it.”

 
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