MANKATO, Minn. — The Vikings are going virtual in 2015.
The Vikings are the fourth NFL team reported to have a partnership with STRIVR Labs, Inc., a provider of virtual reality instructional technology. The list also includes the Cowboys, Patriots and 49ers, who will host the Vikings in the 2015 season opener on Sept. 14.
"We are constantly looking for opportunities to help our players prepare and improve on the field," Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said. "This is just another example of the Wilf family's commitment to helping our team compete for championships."
The technology developed by STRIVR in Palo Alto, California, incorporates the use of video footage from reps at practices. A team from STRIVR, including former Vikings special teams standout Heath Farwell, will begin gathering footage at training camp immediately.
"I think first and foremost it's just awesome to see any team, but especially the Vikings be at the forefront of doing something like this," STRIVR Founder Derek Belch said Sunday. "As far as what it can do, we're looking at literally taking the practice experience and bringing it off the practice field. I'm in no way, shape or form ever going to denounce the importance of physical reps, but the reality is NFL teams are increasingly limited in the amount of time they're able to spend on the field, and we're giving these guys a chance to simulate, just like they're there."
Belch said the company is able to film the reps in a special way that will allow Teddy Bridgewater, for instance, to watch the replay from his viewpoint.
"The goal here is the coaching staff tells us what they want their players to be doing in the virtual environment and what they think some of the coaching points are mentally and physically," Belch said. "We kind of prepare a nice little template to them on how we can pull that off. At the end of the day, Minnesota is going to have a really nice library that grows on a daily basis that their players can access at any given time."
Belch said he enjoyed meeting with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner recently and "saw immediate buy-in from the coaches and an overall willingness to use some experimentation and be creative and do things a little outside the box that we don't see everywhere."
"That's going to make this very exciting to work with them," Belch added.
In addition to the teaching component, the technology has potential to further enhance fan experiences.
"We want to give the fan some access that they've never gotten before," Belch said. "What does one play in practice look like through Teddy Bridgewater's eyes? What is the middle linebacker seeing when he's preparing to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Hall of Fame Game? What's it like to hear a postgame speech from Mike Zimmer in the locker room and not just see it on TV but feel like you're really there?
"That's the type of stuff we're going to be able to bring to the fans, and that's really neat because we've tested it at Stanford," Belch said. "We've shown the Stanford fans some of this stuff and they absolutely love it."