How a Startup’s Virtual Reality Technology Transformed an NFL Quarterback’s Game

  • 10 January 2018
  • Jermaine Wright

Case Keenum has played for four NFL teams in just five years – he fits the definition of what experts call a ‘journeyman quarterback’.

Back in the spring, when Keenum was added to the Minnesota Vikings' roster as a backup, very few believed he would be instrumental to the team becoming a Superbowl favorite after finishing 13-3 and earning the No.2 seed in the playoffs.

Before this season Keenum was largely a pedestrian quarterback but has put up Pro-bowl numbers and ranks amongst the very top quarterbacks statistically in the NFL this season despite uncertainty each week on how long he would remain the starter, a situation he has been in before.

The former Houston University quarterback’s workhorse-like reputation – first guy in, last guy out, film-room junkie, a work ethic that’s second to none, is well-documented by his coaches and teammates, both current and former.

But much of the credit for Keenum’s re-birth as a flamethrower in a breakout season can also be credited to virtual reality…….yes virtual reality.

Keenum’s meticulous attention to detail and tireless preparation led him to utilizing VR technology.

How a Startup’s Virtual Reality Technology Transformed an NFL Quarterback’s Game
Case Keenum (centre) takes a snap in a game against the Washington Redskins (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

This season, the Vikings utilized STRIVR, a Silicon Valley startup that provides extra, virtual, reps to players by recording practice plays using a 360-degree camera positioned where a player would stand on the field, allowing players to watch that play later using a VR headset.

Keenum took advantage of STRIVR's VR technology after seeing the demo while he was a member of the Rams. It was beneficial in getting him ready for each game by getting the most out of every week, particularly before starting quarterback Sam Bradford’s injury when he was not getting first-team live reps.

But even after the Vikings turned to Keenum, the quarterback chose to stick with the VR platform to prepare for games.

Most starters don’t think they need it beyond organized team activities and mini-camps because they’re getting reps on the field. But on the other hand, Keenum thought it would be something that would be even more valuable for a starter as a supplemental preparation tool.

As a result, Keenum has had thousands of additional mental reps viewing 2,647 plays through virtual reality, which translated to him getting to review every play the Vikings have run this season two to three times from a mental standpoint over the course of the year, according to STRIVR’s tracking data.

To put that number in perspective, the 2,600 plays would be more than twice as many in-game snaps as he took this season. All of that has added up to hours of cumulative mental practice on top of what he was doing physically.

How much of Keenum’s success can be attributed to STRIVR’s VR technology is immeasurable but compelling data provide a base for an argument in favor.

Despite learning a completely new offense, Keenum led the NFL in QBR (Quarterback Rating) when under pressure and when blitzed.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, his 59 QBR when pressured was the highest in the NFL, as was his 88 QBR when facing a blitz.

Keenum went through his progressions more instinctively than usual thanks to the virtual reality repetition.

Nothing can replace live reps, but the additional help can result in a player processing information a second quicker, which, for a quarterback is pivotal as it could be the difference between finding an open receiver or getting flustered and throwing a frantic interception or taking a sack.

STRIVR CEO Derek Belch explained to ESPN in detail how the VR technology could help a quarterback.

“When blitzed the tendency of quarterbacks is to speed up when, in reality, he needs to slow down. He needs to say, ‘Where do I need to go? What do I need to do to not make a hurried decision?’ I think seeing these reps again and again in VR helps these guys do that, Belch said in an interview with ESPN.

Keenum is a model user of STRIVR’s technology. The quarterback goes into Minnesota’s VR room at the practice facility to do prep work at the end of each week. In 20 to 25 minutes, he’s able to comb through a few hundred reps as part of his final preparation.

When the Vikings got on a roll most expected Keenum to eventually cool off but the quarterback managed to maintain a high level of performance throughout his 11-3 record as a starter this season.

“He got better, not worse because he put more work in and got more comfortable every week in their system,” Belch told ESPN.

The Vikings and Keenum aren’t the only one in the NFL utilizing STRIVR’s VR technology to improve. It is being used by several other teams in the NFL and college football as well as referees.

“Guys [STRIVR has worked with] in veteran systems such as Carson Palmer and Tony Romo, were like, ‘Man, I wish I had this when I was a rookie because it took me three years to get comfortable in the offense.’

He’s had less than one year to learn an entire offense and it’s turned out really well. The effect on your brain says this [technology] is legit. Having the headset on is more effective that 2-D learning. This stuff works when people buy in and do it right,” Belch added.

STRIVR Labs was founded in 2015 and is the world leader in using virtual reality (VR) to train individuals and improve performance. STRIVR is used by some of the world's top organizations including professional sports teams and Fortune 100 companies.

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