The Bears found some new additions to their surroundings when they took the field Wednesday morning for the second day of veteran minicamp. Behind the south endzone of the practice field at Halas Hall was a video board, showing live coverage and replays of the drills being done on the field below. The Bears are testing out the board at this week's minicamp. There was also a pair of new towers, both equipped with high-speed cameras to record the practice footage.
The board and cameras are just a part of the recent technological additions the team has recently made to try to improve their play. Coach John Fox said that the board gives the practice a game-like experience, something he wants to familiarize his players with prior to the 2017 season. Since Soldier Field and all the visiting stadiums the Bears will visit have large screens inside, Fox felt the practices should reflect those surroundings as well.
"We talk about practices being parts of mini games and that's pretty close," Fox said Wednesday following the practice. "We have the tablets on the sidelines for the players as well as the video boards, much like the boards are at the stadium. So those are just a couple things we've done this off-season to help our guys prepare to get better and help us win on Sunday.
The video board helps both the players and coaches prepare for what life is like during games. By creating a setting that's as close to the authentic experience as possible, Fox and his staff are hoping the team can be better prepared when the games roll around.
"It's as much game-like as much as possible, pretty much how we adjust and make adjustments during the game," Fox said. "Both with the Microsoft tablets on the sideline and typically in most stadiums they have a big video board for replay which are helpful teaching tools in game situations."
New technology being utilized by the Bears isn't just for the practice fields. The team has studied the best ways to improve in every element of the organization. That includes the use of virtual reality, which assists players' preparation for game conditions without the risk of injury.
Virtual reality has been especially beneficial in the quarterback room, where none of the four players on the roster have taken a regular season snap in a Chicago uniform. Three of the players - Mike Glennon, Mark Sanchez and Mitchell Trubisky - are new to the team completely, and Connor Shaw was hurt all of last season. By allowing the QB's to take virtual reps and understand the offense, the Bears are better maximizing their practice time ahead of the season.
"It's a new tool," Fox said of the virtual reality. "There's probably seven or eight teams in the league using it. Our newness at quarterback, whether it's Mitchell, Mark or Mike, it's just getting reps that the other guys don't as far as the on the field, they're able to get it in the meeting room, where it's 'virtually' like practicing."
The Bears are also using technology to improve performance in a practice setting. The team recently conducted a study to determine the best ways and times to practice in training camp. Fox said that when the team reports to Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais for the 2017 camp on July 26.
"We've made adjustments, we've changed our schedule, we have three schedules now: A, B and C," Fox said of how this year's camp will be different than years past. "These are all things to try to reach peak performance. We tweak everything."
Technology is helping the Bears more and more, a trend that will only continue to grow as the team sees the beneficial results.
"I talked about some of the technology things we're doing to better prepare our players, said Fox. "I think we've had a great off-season, both in the strength and conditioning phase and in the football phase, people are way more comfortable, they're playing a lot faster in our schemes."