Video assistant Jeff Gonzalez (foreground, with paper) and video director Rob Brakel break down some college game video.
Within days of the Cardinals' hiring of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator, the team's video department had visitors.
Horton had already professed his lean toward the defense preached by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and promised his first play call would be a blitz. So players like Adrian Wilson, Greg Toler and Rashad Johnson all had a request: Get together as much Pittsburgh defensive video as they could, so they could begin to study what they were getting into.
There are other ways the department – made up of video director Rob Brakel and assistant Jeff Gonzalez – make an impact, beyond the most obvious part of their job: Breaking down every game and practice so coaches and players can learn from what they have done and prep for the next opponent.
There are college games to break down, and pro days, as the team prepares for the draft. There are specific breakdowns for individual players of their own work. There are tapes made of players from around the league to study – linebacker O'Brien Schofield had a package made of pass-rushing Pro Bowlers like DeMarcus Ware and Clay Matthews, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald reviews the catches of peers like Greg Jennings, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White and Calvin Johnson.
"Ultimately, it all helps the team out," Brakel said. "Which hopefully means winning and making the playoffs and (monetary) bonuses and everything that goes with it."
Much has changed with the way teams gather video. When Brakel broke into the league with the Steelers in 1998, the NFL was just shifting from video tapes to computer-based video. When Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt was a rookie player back in 1985, teams were still using reel-to-reel film.
Now on game days, Brakel and Gonzalez shoot directly into a computer and have become so efficient in their job and with the new technology, they can break down the entire first half of video at during the 12-minute halftime, usually with a couple minutes to spare.
The timeline allows players and coaches to have the game breakdown immediately after games. On road trips, some players already start watching video on the flight home.
"It allows you to make corrections when it's still fresh in everyone's mind," Whisenhunt said.
A handful of players purchased their own specialized laptops to use the team's video system (the Cardinals, along with nine other NFL teams, use DVSport) and by the time the 2011 season starts, there will be an iPad application available so players can download video directly to their iPad and study video that way.
During the season, there aren't just NFL games to break down, although that's what the majority of Mondays and Tuesdays become. The three-man crew (in-season, Brakel hires a full-time intern) then sorts through the dozens of college games that come across the server as the team's scouts – and later, the front office and coaches – collect video on potential draftees.
And that doesn't include the daily practices that must be pieced together, done after Brakel and Gonzalez stand on lifts some 60 feet in the air shooting video for two hours.
This time of year, there are more college cut-ups to make, Scouting combine footage to sort and various college pro days to distribute. Technology has sped up the entire process. Once, Brakel notes, teams would have to wait until Monday afternoon – when the upcoming opponent's game video would arrive via overnight shipping – to begin that breakdown.
Now, thanks to the internet? "It's instantaneous," Brakel said.
Speed hasn't only improved, but so too has the clarity and quality of the video, Whisenhunt said, making the whole process better.
In the end, coaches are the ones who lean on the video more than anyone else. It gives them an idea of who is playing well and who isn't, allows them to gameplan for the next opponent, and see their playbook in action.
Players, however, can reap the benefit too. Among the receivers Fitzgerald had Brakel break down at one point was former Jacksonville star Jimmy Smith – because receivers coach John McNulty had coached Smith in Jacksonville, and Fitzgerald wanted to see the product of that relationship.
Johnson made significant improvement from his rookie season to his second year, and credited the video in a big way, once telling Brakel, "I am a visual learner -- I need to see what I do."
"Certain players use more of it than others, but it does help," Whisenhunt said.
"We definitely have a greater volume of players that use (video) now than when we first got here. Rashad Johnson is the perfect example of that. There are a number of guys who understand now their longevity in the league may increase based on how much they study and put time in."
That's a little easier than it used to be, although – like with most part of the football operation – it can be a grind, especially in-season.
"Coaches are like, 'Get it done when you get it done, we know it's a process,' " Gonzalez said. "They know it's not magic."
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