Mike Perkins has spent countless hours filming Jacksonville Jaguars practices from a scissor lift about 50 feet in the air.
It was uncomfortable, even downright scary, at times. Strong wind, sideways rain, nearby lightning, Perkins has experienced all of it.
So when Perkins, the team’s director of football technology, had the opportunity to move away from the sometimes-dangerous lifts for good, he didn’t hesitate.
Now, the Jags are one of at least 10 NFL teams that have partially or completely eliminated scissor lifts and switched to mobile “mast cams,” which have high-definition cameras atop high-reaching poles and are controlled remotely from the ground.
The stations look like the front of a boat, including comfy bench seats, and have protective canopies, color monitors and the capability to run for several days on a single charge.
“The biggest thing was the liability,” said Perkins, who spent 18 years as Jacksonville’s video director. “Every day you worry, at least from my standpoint. You worry about bad weather. You worry about something happening. And then the whole thing at Notre Dame, that really hit home.”
A 20-year-old student was killed at Notre Dame in 2010 when the hydraulic scissor lift he was filming football practice on tumbled to the ground because of high wind. Less than an hour before his death, Sullivan tweeted about the “terrifying” weather conditions and wrote “I guess I’ve lived long enough.”
Several universities, including Notre Dame, stopped using the lifts in the wake of Declan Sullivan’s death. Florida and others built expensive, permanent towers around practice fields. The Gators spent nearly $700,000 to build six towers.
NFL teams were slower to react.
“I can’t believe it took this long,” Perkins said.
A company called 8K Solutions in Titusville, about two hours south of Jacksonville, has seemingly perfected the mast cams. The Jaguars used them at the Senior Bowl in January, where a number of other NFL teams took notice.
Jacksonville purchased three units, which list around $75,000 each, and ditched their scissor lifts. Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Dallas, Houston, New England, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Tennessee also started using them.
“We’re trying to go to the next level,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “It’s safety and convenience.”
The Falcons switched to mast cams right before training camp. Tampa Bay is the latest NFL team to try them out. The Jaguars got the Buccaneers one unit in anticipation of two joint practices in Jacksonville this week. The Bucs will use them Wednesday and Thursday at Jacksonville’s practice fields.
“You can throw them on the back of a trailer and take them to a high school or move them anywhere on the field,” Perkins said. “You can do just about anything with them. Our guys, we love them. They’re different if you’re used to shooting a camera. But I could literally put my 9-year-old in one and he could learn it faster than I could because all these kids are gamers and it’s literally a video game.
“It’s a robotic camera with a control board and a joystick.”
For now, the Jaguars are still shooting practice video on digital memory cards and then uploading them inside the football facility. When they begin construction on an indoor practice facility, which is scheduled to be completed in 2017, they will have cables running from the video room to select spots around the indoor facility and around the team’s three outdoor practice fields.
“You’ll just take the trailer, hook it up and have live feeds in the video room,” Perkins said. “We’ll be controlling the camera from inside, so there won’t be any video people on the field. The big thing is the liability from being in the lifts is gone. By next year, I’d be shocked if every team’s not using them.”
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