ENGLEWOOD — There’s a robot takeover brewing in Englewood.
The Lemon Bay High football team is using a mobile tackling dummy in leu of certain live drills, giving players a life-like target without putting bodies at risk.
The RC-car-like Mobile Virtual Player (MVP), developed by a group at Dartmouth University, wheels itself around the field like a speedy bobblehead and can reach up to 16 mph.
“The days of lining kids 10 yards apart and having them go smack into each other are over,” Lemon Bay football coach Don Southwell said. “That’s not the way you do it. So we try to purchase equipment that’s state of the art and try to design our practices to be as safe as possible.”
Lemon Bay, which is one of the first high school teams to utilize this technology, is still in the learning stages with the equipment. The $5,000 piece of equipment was acquired earlier this season and purchased by a member of the community.
So far Southwell has used it mainly for pursuit drills. He will set up a scout offense with the MVP equipment to one side and have the quarterback toss a swing pass in its direction.
As the tackling dummy races to the sideline, Southwell can speed it up or slow it down via the remote control to simulate a sweeping running back.
“You want your practices to be as game-like as possible,” Southwell said. “It doesn’t get tired and it doesn’t slow down. This allows us to see some of the speeds we might see on Friday night. We’re still trying to figure out how to incorporate it. It’s a little testy and there are still times I have to yell ‘Look out!’”
For the players, it’s often more effective than having a teammate doing the same action because with a live player, they would typically run it at a slower speed to minimize injury risk.
With the MVP equipment, they can go full speed without worry. Southwell has also considered strapping a ball to its side to work on forcing fumbles.
“When I heard we were getting one, I was pretty excited,” linebacker Coby Lambert said. “When it starts off it’s not very quick off the line, but then it gets going pretty quick. It makes you get a good angle. You have to get behind the hips of it just like a normal tackle. The purpose of the drill is to make sure it can’t cut back.”
In the concussion era where concern over injury is at the forefront of discussion, equipment like the MVP can help coaches ease the risk.
Southwell is hoping they can get more in the future.
“We want to teach our kids how to tackle in the safest environment possible,” Southwell said. “It allows you to tackle a live object to the ground without having head-to-head contact. It’s player development with safety.”