The San Francisco 49ers received three Mobile Virtual Players (MVP) on Monday. They are the robotic tackling dummies that you have probably seen on this season of HBO's Hard Knocks featuring the Los Angeles Rams. The units offer players the advantage of practicing tackling without the risk of injury to the player getting hit.
Buddy Teevens, the head coach of Dartmouth and a friend of 49ers head coach Chip Kelly, helped perfect the technology. Teevens has credited the technology for helping to improve tackling and lessen injuries for his program.
Apparently, Kelly and his Oregon staff tried to build something similar during his college coaching career. "We actually tried to build one when I was at Oregon," Kelly said on Wednesday. "It broke after the first tackle. It went really fast, but, we had a great guy that was a local guy in town at Oregon that did a great job with it. But, to put it together where it's also safe, because you also don't want to get an injury from it."
The 49ers are using the technology in a number of ways. "I think it's advantageous that you can do some live tackling," said Kelly. "We used it with the offensive line yesterday in our screen drills and some of them were cut blocking it when obviously you're not going to cut block a player in practice. But, you can cut block a bag. So, I think it's a huge step for everybody. You want to get accomplished a lot of things in training sessions, but you also want to do it in a safe environment. A lot of times, it's not the guy doing the tackling, it's the guy getting tackled. So, the fact that the guy getting tackled is an inanimate object, lends itself to, I think we'll continue to do more with that."
OLB coach Jason Tarver making plays against the Hard Knocks dummies. pic.twitter.com/KEs2apHPkZ— Joe Fann (@Joe_Fann) August 23, 2016
"Everybody on defense can tackle them," continued Kelly. "So, you get the whole defense who can use them to work on pass rush, trying to come up and under. I think, the longer our coaches put their heads together, there's a lot of different things you can use them for. It's, basically, we do a lot of work with sleds and dummies, but now you have a sled/dummy that can move."
In addition to the San Francisco 49ers and Rams, the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, Oakland Raiders, and Pittsburgh Steelers have been using them in training camp practices as well.
The robotic dummies are controlled by remote and can reach speeds up to 18 mph. They can be used in a variety of ways, including – but not limited to – tackling practice and defensive back coverage drills as seen on Hard Knocks.