Virtual reality has become big in everything from golf to soccer to the Olympics to college sports to documentaries, and even Jon Gruden’s getting in on it now. During ESPN’s Arizona Cardinals-New York Jets Monday Night Football broadcast, Gruden donned a virtual reality headset, and they then put his view (of what things look like from just behind Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer during practice) out on the broadcast. Here’s what it looked like:

This kind of VR preparation has become a key part of the football world for quarterbacks in particular, with teams from Stanford to USC to Michigan adopting it, but it also might have some implications for analysts. Some of these VR programs shoot 3D film during games and then use that so players can see things from different in-game points of view later, and access to that kind of technology could impact analysts as they review game film. Rather than judge if a quarterback could see a receiver at a certain point based on an overhead angle, why not step into his shoes and see what he could see? From Bruce Feldman’s 2015 story on this technology at Stanford, here’s why this is particularly meaningful for quarterbacks:

[Derek] Belch and [Jeremy] Bailenson, who met twice a week to discuss how their pilot program could be an asset to Stanford football, realized VR could be an ideal dynamic for quarterbacks. While there were so many moving parts all around them, QBs are tasked to do the bulk of their work from essentially one confined space. “It’s like the flight simulator idea, he is in one spot: in the cockpit,” Belch said. “So we have the QB pretty much in one spot and he lives in this three-yard halo.” So they set out to simulate that three-yard halo.

…”It was the first time I could actually visualize something like that,” [Stanford head coach David] Shaw says. “‘I was like, ‘Wow, if we could actually put quarterbacks in a virtual world so we’re not using extra practice reps, we’re not extending practice at all — we’re not messing with the 20-hour work week, we’re just creating a library of things for a QB to learn something, that’d help your backup QB who’s never gonna get as many reps as a starter and helps your starter get three reps on a play that he screwed up on and he can just watch the same thing over and over again and see everybody and feel like he’s there.’ When Derek started explaining it to me, I got really excited.”

Shaw, who knew Bailenson because the professor’s virtual reality lab was a stop on the tour his staff would show Stanford football recruits, agreed to set aside five minutes of practice each week on Monday nights. Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren would scout out eight to 10 blitzes the upcoming opponent favored and scheme up some answers that the Cardinal scout team players would carry out as Belch and his video crew filmed. By Wednesdays, when the quarterbacks came into the football office, the Cardinal’s plan of attack was already loaded into VR and there for them once they strapped on the headsets.

There’s certainly some potential there for analysts, too, especially those like Gruden who are calling a prominent game each week. Whether from game footage or from recreations the way Stanford did, VR could help the analyst step into the quarterback’s shoes ahead of time and perhaps better understand what they can see in terms of particular blitzes or defensive alignments. Even the brief practice footage ESPN showed Monday can be useful; that shows how the Cardinals line up, what lines of vision Palmer has, where rushers are coming from and more. VR’s making a big impact on the sports world, from players to broadcasts, and it may eventually become part of analysts’ toolbox as well. It’s not just about Jon Gruden looking silly with a headset on.

[Matt Clapp on Clippit]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.

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