A high-tech command station controls everything the players view on the huge screen at the front of each meeting room
You're on the practice field, playing linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense. A certain coverage is called that requires you to drop into a specific zone. The ball is snapped and – brain freeze – you go in the wrong direction. You're out of position. Whoops.
Fortunately, the play goes the other way and your blunder doesn't lead to any critical breakdown by the defense. You slink to the sideline and, as practice continues unabated, you hope your little misstep will go by unnoticed.
In the amount of time it takes you to hit the locker room after practice, take a shower and throw on your civvies, your little mistake has been transferred from the eye in the sky to a system wired into every building in the team facility. Your coach has already sat down at the computer in his office, spliced your favorite moment in with four or five other mistakes in practice to make a "highlight reel" of bad plays and sent that file down to the linebacker meeting room.
By the time you sit down with your fellow linebackers in your positional meeting room, this group of plays is cued up on the giant projection screen at the front of the room. You will relive your mistake, sheepishly, and learn from it, along with your teammates.
Welcome to the wired world of the NFL, executed to perfection by the state-of-the-art technology that traces through the Buccaneers' facility like a nerve system.
The Buccaneers are in their first week of work at the new facility, a 145,000-square-foot palace that has been lauded as the finest headquarters in all of professional sports. The complex is graced with all the tools a football team needs in the modern NFL, from the massive and well-stocked weight room to the expertly-equipped training room. In most corners of the building, the technology available to the players, coaches and staff members is far beyond what they had access to in One Buccaneer Place, the team's modestly-proportioned headquarters from 1976 through last week.
That is certainly true in the player meeting rooms, which occupy a good portion of the ground floor, stretching around two sides of the enormous locker room. Coaches and players have gone from cramped, multi-purpose rooms with outdated equipment to spacious, specific areas outfitted with an incredibly efficient system for the sharing of information. That's how that poor linebacker's misstep becomes an instant lesson for his entire unit.
"It's state-of-the-art, no doubt about it," said Linebackers Coach Joe Barry. "You have anything you could possibly need."
It starts in the back of each room, where a futuristic-looking desk called the Coach's Command Station is situation. It might be the most aptly-named piece of equipment in the building, because it looks as if it was lifted right from the bridge of a Star Trek cruiser. It doesn't have force fields or phasers, but it does allow a coach to run his meeting at warp speed.
"The main thing as a coach is, when you have a meeting time is of the essence," said Barry. "You're always in a time crunch. You always have to get as much information to the players as you can in a short period of time. Everything we have in there is built on allowing us to get the most information to our players in a short period of time."
Thus, the coach's command station is fitted with five possible methods of output: a Betacam deck, a document camera, a DVD/VCR combo deck, an XOS PC link and a guest PC hookup. Seated behind his curved and compact desk, the coach controls all of these possibilities with a single remote and can flick quickly from one to the next. Whatever he chooses to share with his players is instantly displayed on a huge screen at the front of the room.
"When a coach comes in, all he has to do is power the system on with the touch of a button and choose from a list of the equipment in the desk – BETA, doc cam, XOS PC and guest PC," said Dave Levy, the Bucs' Video Director and the man responsible for this intricate yet easily-operated setup. "That last one means that the station is equipped with an outlet to allow anybody to bring in a computer, plug it in through a VGA cable and show a Power Point presentation or whatever items they have on their laptop.
"The coach comes in, selects his source and uses one remote to control all of the items in the station. Plus, Professional Communications Systems programmed the AMX controller that is in the command station so that everything can be controlled from a touch-screen on the top of each station."
By the coach's right hand in his command station is a gray console with a small screen showing his touch options. The universal remote, set up in a way familiar to the coaches from the systems they've worked on for years, is also by his right hand. With these two devices, he can quickly take his players through any splice of footage he needs them to see, from practices, Buc games or opponents' games.
The system already includes every game played in the NFL over the last three years, cut up by play so that the data can be assembled in any way the coach wishes. Want to see what the Carolina Panthers have done on every third-and-seven over the last three years? Just a few well-informed keystrokes and you have your digital highlight reel.
The same is true of practice, thanks to the swift work of Levy's crew. Every practice is shot by several video workers on lifts located around the practice field. During and immediately after each workout, that footage is entered into the system and broken down by play. A coach can walk in off the field, head to his office on the second floor and immediately begin sorting out the footage he wants. Within minutes, he can use it as a teaching tool with his men.
"We shoot practice on SX tape and capture it into the XOS system," said Levy. "We mark the ins and outs of every play and share them with the coaches. That's available on every XOS coach's station in the building. Every coach has his own username and password, so Coach [Monte] Kiffin will log in and have all the defensive practice tape. They also have every pro game for the last three years in the system that they can access. And they can build their own cutups from this. If Monte had four or five bad plays from practice that he wants to put an emphasis on in the meeting, he'll make his own reel and put it in a personal locker. He then logs off in his office upstairs and can come down into his meeting room and log on as himself. Everything that's he created upstairs is available to him in the meeting room.
"By the time they come off the field and get a shower, everything's done. They can sit down and start watching."
If Kiffin or any other coach wants to do the same thing to share with a specific player, he can make the reel and v-mail it to the player, who can watch it on the system in his positional meeting room or even in the players' lounge. That's right…there's no escape.
Sometimes, too, a coach wishes to draw up a few Xs and Os. For generations, that's been done on a blackboard or a greaseboard. Now, with a flick of a switch, a coach can whip up any diagram while seated at his command station and share it instantly with his players.
That's possible through the aforementioned document camera, which looks like a futuristic cross between a desk lamp and a telephone. The lead arm of the doc cam is aimed down at the coach's desk, and anything slid underneath it is projected with extreme clarity on the same huge screen used to watch cutups. That's a feature Barry has already learned to enjoy.
"In the past, if we ever had to get up and draw something, the coach would have to get up and go to the greaseboard or to the overhead," he said. "Now, we have these document cameras where I can just stay seated, slide over, hit a button and go from my [footage] to my document camera. I just draw whatever I want on a piece of paper and it shoots it onto the screen for the players to see immediately."
The linebackers' meeting room is one in a row of positional rooms located along the front, east side of the expansive new facility. Each of these rooms is equipped with blackout shades to make it easier to view the screen. There are eight different positional rooms – QB, RB, WR, TE, OL, DL, LB, DB – plus a larger room for special teams, a larger room for the entire defense and one massive, auditorium style meeting room for the whole team, which doubles as the offensive meeting room.
At One Buc Place, Barry's meeting room was also his office. It was also the room in which the defensive coaches held their meetings. It was also, with several dividers pulled back, a third of the defensive meeting room.
In a way, Barry liked being in the center of all the activity…most of the team would pass by his door at one point or another. Now, however, he has his own spacious office upstairs in addition to the meeting room down among the hustle and bustle of the players.
"At One Buc, it was cluttered and there were a lot of bodies in there all the time," said Barry. "Now, if I do have some work that I need to get away from everything, I can come in here and disappear and get everything done.
As for the players? Well, everything about the new facility is new and impressive. It's hard to take it all in over the course of a day or even a week. But they're going to be spending as much time in those meeting rooms as anywhere else in the facility, so that's one spot that really had a chance to impress. Mission accomplished.
"I think they love it," said Levy. "They're all walking around here in a daze. I was showing one of these command stations to [Wide Receivers Coach] Richard Mann the other day and Ike Hilliard was standing there with his jaw just hanging down."
Of course, if you're the player whose practice-field snafu is being replayed before your eyes just 20 minutes later, you might spend a few moments cursing the new technology. Overall, though, it's an immense upgrade over One Buccaneer Place.
"I think the players love it," said Barry. "It's not even comparable to what we've been accustomed to."