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Steelers among teams using new helmet-camera technology

| Saturday, June 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown wears a Schuut Vision Helmet Camera during ota practice Thursday , June 12, 2014 on the South Side.

Mike Tomlin didn't say it once but twice: “It gave me a headache.”

But in the NFL, where everyone is looking for the slightest advantage, the Steelers coach will deal with short-term misery if it results in long-term success.

The Steelers during spring practices experimented with new technology called SchuttVision — a full contact-capable helmet with an integrated high-definition video system that records never-seen-before angles that can be used as a teaching tool.

It's not quite to the level of analytics or advanced statistics that have become popular in baseball and hockey, but for an organization that doesn't advocate change, the helmet cam — even if on a trial basis — can be considered a leap of faith.

“This time of year, I think it's appropriate to be open to the growth of technology in our game,” Tomlin said. “So I'll do things such as that and look at innovative things and see if it can be useful to us.”

The Steelers used it twice during spring practices, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wearing it on the first day of organized team activities and receiver Antonio Brown on the last.

The players said they have yet to see the video, but offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback coach Randy Fichtner have.

“You can identify the fronts and when we are pointing out (middle linebackers) and stuff like that because usually the eyes are looking where he's pointing,” Haley said. “You can see the direction the head is at the snap. It's interesting technology. It's a neat concept. We haven't done a whole bunch with it, but the technology is phenomenal. If not for anything else, it forces the player that has it on to be on his P's and Q's.”

Fichtner, who has been coaching Roethlisberger for four years, admits he hasn't put much thought in how the video could be used, but he did believe it could help backup quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones as much as Roethlisberger.

“You would like to think that if you see something from his eye level that it could potentially give every other quarterback who wasn't getting that rep a chance to view that,” Fichtner said. “We really haven't taken it to that next level yet. It's new technology, so sometimes it's tough to grasp right away.”

Unveiled in January, SchuttVision is being used by 33 NFL and NCAA teams. The company also has a partnership with the Arena Football League — including the Pittsburgh Power — that uses the video to enhance game broadcasts.

Helmets retail for $1,200 each. There currently are 76 helmets being used. Teams range from having one to 10 helmets.

Dreaming big

It was in fall 2011, and JR Liverman woke up from a dream with vision of a helmet cam.

Liverman quickly drew an image on his computer, and since then that dream has taken off.

Liverman founded Sports Video Innovations, recruited investors, created a prototype and located a partner with Schutt Sports, one of the leading helmet manufacturers.

“Some 30 months later, we launched what's known as SchuttVision,” Liverman said. “The response has been fantastic.”

The impact-resistant camera fits into the helmet's nose bumper, shoots 720 high-definition video and has a 2 12-hour battery life. It captures footage on an SD card or transmits a live signal to the sidelines for further processing.

There have been similar products, but this is the only one fully integrated into a helmet where it can be used in live game and practice situations.

That's what attracted the AFL.

“Our league has always strived to stay on the cutting edge of innovation,” commissioner Jerry B. Kurz said. “SchuttVision will allow us to make history by placing cameras on multiple players during games for the first time in sports history.”

ESPN and CBS Sports Network have used SchuttVision during their telecasts.

Liverman said he has had preliminary talks with the NFL.

“This is something that networks want in their broadcasts,” Liverman said. “I don't have a crystal ball in knowing when that will happen. I absolutely believe that this will be integrated into the broadcasts on all levels of football over the next years.”

Steelers way

Liverman was born in Steubenville, Ohio, and is a self-proclaimed lifelong Steelers fan. Even though he calls Shreveport, La., home, he doesn't miss a Steelers game while sporting his Troy Polamalu shirt and Terrible Towel.

“My children are all Steelers fans as well,” Liverman said.

Liverman's father played high school football with Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw at Woodlawn, La.

“It is really neat to see the Steelers use the product,” Liverman said. “It's like a dream come true to see Ben Roethlisberger using it.”

Roethlisberger may not have been as thrilled, but it had nothing to do with the technology.

“It wasn't my normal helmet, so it was tough,” Roethlisberger said. “They asked me to wear it, so I did. I think he wanted to see what I was seeing out there.”

Veteran receiver Lance Moore, who played eight seasons in New Orleans before signing with the Steelers in March, never saw the helmet cam before, but he is open to the concept.

“If it is not hindering us, I have no problem with it,” Moore said.

Moore also sees the potential benefits.

“They want to see where our head is at,” he said.

“A lot of times when we are running routes, you gain an advantage with head and shoulder movements. It can also be used to see the eye line and see if they are widening during verticals.”

Colleges have used SchuttVision helmets on players at different positions, including linebacker and safeties.

Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is using the technology to try to sort a logjam at quarterback with Gary Nova, Chris Laviano, Blake Rankin, Mike Bimonte and Devin Ray.

“I think it has been very valuable,” Flood said in March.

It's still unknown whether the NFL sees it that way, but the NFL typically doesn't embrace change as quickly as the college game.

“I think it could be a good teaching tool and a great thing to learn from,” Brown said.

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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