N.J. High School Football Team Trains With Mechanical Dummy

By PATRICK MULRANEN, The Press of Atlantic City | November 20, 2018

It weighs 195 pounds and can run 20 miles per hour.

It’s not a Division I football recruit, but rather a motorized padded tackling dummy for players to learn safe tackling techniques.

Earlier this season, New Jersey’s Ocean City High School football team unveiled the dummy in hopes of making the game a little safer.

The dummy helps reduce head injuries from unnecessary helmet-to-helmet collisions and allows players to tackle at game speed, according to Ocean City coach Kevin Smith.

Around the country football teams at all levels are looking at ways to make the game safer as concerns about concussions continue to increase.

“We got it because we thought it could reduce some of the wear and tear on our players throughout the course of the season,” he said. “You can’t do certain drills live because of the risk of injury against your teammates, so we kind of plugged in the dummy in those scenarios, and it allows us do those things that we normally couldn’t do.”

The Red Raiders have been using the dummy as they prepare for their annual Thanksgiving game against Pleasantville.

And it feels like tackling an actual player, said junior defenders Chris Armstrong and Jaden Rogers.

Both compared it to an opposing running back.

“It is really cool to use,” said Rogers, 17, of Ocean City. “We use it a lot, mainly for special teams, but it is this fast thing that gets around the field. It is just a nice thing to have for our team to use and a very nice resource.”

Smith originally learned about the mechanical dummy from Superintendent Kathleen Taylor. Smith, being an advocate for safety in football, jumped at the opportunity.

It has been beneficial.

“I think the future of football is going to be one where a lot of concern is on the health and safety of the players,” Smith said. “I think football is safer than it’s ever been because of things like this and the guarding helmets and even the helmet technology, so it is trending in the right direction.”

The Red Raiders mainly utilize the dummy on special teams drills – lining up in punt and kick formation, and running downfield to tackle the dummy, which is made by Rogers Athletic Company in Farwell, Michigan.

The Mobile Virtual Player Drive, which costs around $8,000, is seen as a member of the team.

The dummy can also quickly change direction.

“It’s funny because I actually think they see it as a real participant and not as a piece of equipment,” Smith said. “I mean, when it is moving 15-20 mph and you are running full speed to catch up with it, you have to use all the technique you would as though it is a live player.”

Rogers, who plays on special teams, loves the dummy because it has speed and teaches players proper ways to tackle.

Not to mention it improves their game.

“It is awesome to use in the open field and on punt and kick returns,” Armstrong said. “It really helps with the special teams and it helps with everyone’s body by the end of the season. … It helps keep our head up and use better techniques.”

Armstrong, who mainly plays on the defensive line, said he is looking forward to working with the dummy next year.

“It really is cool,” Armstrong, 17, of Upper Township said. “It helps us with our form in our tackling and it helps our bodies (take less hits) by the end of the season. … because it is a long season.”

But the MVP Drive has yet to receive a name, so for now it is dubbed “dummy” among the players.

Smith joked that a name could come in the offseason.

And it will be used in different situations and drills.

“I am sure in the offseason we will sit down and figure out more ways to use it and implement it through out practice,” he said. “I think it is incredibly innovative.”

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