Carson Palmer wore the Oculus mask for his first foray into the Cardinals' new virtual reality and then tried to tell his teammates what it was like.
"You can't describe it," the quarterback said. "I try to tell guys, 'It's cool,' but then they put it on and it's 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe it.' You can't describe how real it really is."
That "real" is something the Cardinals believe will give them a big advantage this season, starting in training camp. The
Cards are one of five NFL teams on board with STRIVR Labs, an outfit based in California that has managed to build a 360-degree world through cameras and computers to experience playing football just by standing in a room.
Already, the Cardinals have been filming portions of practice so the quarterbacks can re-live drills and plays, decide later if they made the right decisions in the heat of the play or even allow someone like Logan Thomas take the same "rep" as Palmer did in practice and see if he sees the same thing from the pocket.
"I've been waiting 20 years for someone to do this," coach Bruce Arians said. "I always thought if you could put a headset on and play football in a room with live pictures, how much better you could get without sweating."
STRIVR, the brainchild of former Stanford kicker Derek Belch, had already delved into the college football world. It reached into the NFL this offseason after Belch went to the NFL Scouting combine. There, he met with multiple teams, although the Cardinals were not one of them.
Belch hooked up with Arians through a phone call from Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney. Belch, already on the road in mid-June to set up the Dallas Cowboys with the technology, took a trip to Arizona in mid-June to meet with Arians and show his stuff. Hooked, Arians himself has tried on the mask.
"I wouldn't have bought it if I hadn't," Arians said, and ownership agreed.
"It's all about winning and we believe this technology can significantly help us," team president Michael Bidwill said. "We think this can give us an edge and we are going to invest in everything we think can give us an edge."
ENTERING THE NFL
The Cowboys, Vikings, 49ers and one other unnamed NFL team are signed up with STRIVR aside from the Cardinals, Belch said. He added that he figures eight teams total will likely be on the platform this season, although he has heard from every NFL team.
Some have expressed interest although it does take getting used to, including allowing cameras in the middle of the
practice field. The technology , at least right now, also means having to usually wait until the next day for the footage. More speed is being developed.
"Coaches have to be willing to take a few risks," Belch said. "Coach Arians is willing to be patient."
While Arians said the system isn't perfect, it's very good, and the quarterbacks agree.
"It gives you a different perspective, a lot of things we haven't seen before," Palmer said. "It's great for guys like Logan and Drew (Stanton) who don't get all the reps I get because now they can pretty much get the reps without the actual mechanics without making the actual throw – they can go through the read and the decision-making."
The system not only allows a player to see but also hear everything from a play, from a coach's playcall to the defensive signals to the offensive line signals. Want to check the footwork on a play? Just look down. Want to see where the running back is lined up? Just look behind you.
Coaches can watch a computer screen as well, so they know exactly what the player is seeing at that moment and if they are looking in the right place.
The Cardinals are using it for special teams and Arians said a use is being worked out for linebackers. Eventually, Belch sees a reason to develop it for most positions.
"It's not an inexpensive service so why would you do it for just the QBs?" Belch said.
THE QUARTERBACK'S BIG BENEFITS
But it is the quarterbacks that will benefit the most, and one of the reasons General Manager Steve Keim likes the idea. If the Cardinals ever are back to a 2014 situation where they have to delve deep into the quarterback depth chart, this should help.
In the offseason, working with young quarterbacks should be that much easier too – crucial for a team that is still searching for the quarterback of the future.
"To have a tool to develop young quarterbacks and process information, that is the hardest thing," Keim said. "It's the hardest thing to find a young quarterback, and it's the hardest thing to teach a young quarterback how to process information. A lot of it is instinctive – you have it or you don't – but you can certainly grow and get better."
That's what Stanton sees, especially in a league where defenses come up with more sub-packages and schemes all the time and the quarterbacks are trying to digest a ton of information in a short period of time.
"To give yourself a chance to put yourself back in your shoes and figure out what you were thinking, it's irreplaceable," Stanton said. "The only thing that can come close to that is live reps. You can sit there on a greaseboard or watch film all day, but when you can watch it in real time and you are in that person's shoes, it means everything."
It may yet go beyond the players at some point. Palmer said after he wore it he suggested that the Cardinals should consider putting a mask or two somewhere around the stadium so that fans can get a sense of just what it is like to stand in the pocket of an NFL game. Arians said the Cards are considering just that.
More importantly, the Cardinals see it as a way to help them win now.
"It's a fantastic advantage," Bidwill said. "The quarterbacks love it, the coaches love it, therefore, I love it."
Images from the second training camp practice on Sunday