In the spring 2016, news broke that the Pittsburgh Steelers were “experimenting” with robotic tackling dummies called Mobile Virtual Players (MVP). Over half of NFL teams are now training with the devices. This July, Canada’s first MVP|DRIVE unit arrived in the Gee-Gees football offices at 200 Lees Avenue.
Not just a flashy - and entertaining - toy, the MVP|DRIVE has serious goals to reduce player injuries. Originally developed by engineers at Dartmouth in cooperation with the football team there, the MVP|DRIVE allows players to practice tackling, blocking, pursuing, evading and throwing at a mobile target, without the impact and fatigue associated with athlete on athlete training.
“It speaks volumes to what our school is doing to promote player safety,” says uOttawa Head Coach Jamie Barresi. “When I made the request and outlined the positives for our players’ health, it was a very fast yes from our department.”
Coach Barresi visited Dartmouth in 2015 when the team was first debuting its creation. “I knew that they had a no-tackling policy at practices and heard that they had almost eliminated their concussions. I wanted to see how they ran their practices but I had no idea that this was going to be part of it.” He met with Buddy Teevens, the Dartmouth head coach, and watched as the robot sped up and down the field for a full ninety minutes, interacting with different positional groups.
“Protecting athletes is critical and the very reason MVP was developed. It’s a solution that will allow players to fully execute a tackle on a non-human device and it eliminates player-on-player contact during drills while maintaining the level of challenge associated with tackling a live person,” said Teevens, who is also Chairman of Mobile Virtual Player, LLC.
Controlled remotely, the MVP|DRIVE picks itself up after taking a hit, is highly responsive to changes of direction, can reach top speeds of 28 kilometres per hour, and is specifically engineered to replicate the height and weight (190 lbs) of a skill position player.
“We had it race Jackson [Bennett] in a 40,” laughs Barresi, remembering one of the first days the unit was out on the turf of Gee-Gees Field. “It was only a little bit behind.”
The MVP|DRIVE can be used in a variety of drills, from tackling and blocking to running and passing, allowing players to practice at full-speed while minimizing player-to-player contact. “We’re very interested to see how our players respond to this, and proud to be the first in Canada,” added Barresi, who holds a PhD doctorate in exercise and sports science from Penn State University.
The Gee-Gees football team opens training camp on August 11, preparing for the 115th season of football at the University of Ottawa. The Ontario University Athletics regular season begins August 26.