Ravens at forefront of technology with use of iPad

Until last year, if Cory Redding had a sudden brainstorm late at night and wanted to review game film, the Ravens defensive end would have to wait until morning. Then he'd have to drive to the team's training facility in Owings Mills, and hope that he had retained the idea that struck him.

Not anymore.

As a result of the Ravens' conversion from paper playbooks to iPads, Redding can now turn to his bedside table, fire up his team-issued iPad 2, and launch a video application to watch the film to test his theory.

"What if I'm laying in the bed at 11 o'clock at night and something came to me? I can go get my iPad and look at it," Redding said. "I can't get into my car and drive to the building at 11 o'clock at night to watch tape. This is just so much better, and you can keep the film with you all the time. You can really look and really study, and it makes a world of difference."

The Ravens have joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the only teams in the NFL that have replaced binders with computer tablets. Many other teams have begun researching adopting similar measures, but no teams have fully embraced the conversion like the Ravens and Buccaneers.

"I bet you every single team will be doing this within two years," said Nick Fusee, the Ravens' director of information technology. "So this is not something that is going to stop. This is something that is definitely going to move forward. And I know for a fact that half of the teams in the NFL are currently looking into this. I'm getting a bunch of calls from different IT directors around the league, asking, 'How did you do it? Can we speak with your developer?' So it's coming for sure."

The genesis for the iPads originated from coach John Harbaugh, who said he received one as a gift from a friend. After watching the team expend volumes of paper and players carrying tomes that weigh as much as 50-pound dumbbells, Harbaugh wondered if it was time for a change.

"Guys carry around these big, old playbooks all the time, and it just seemed crazy," Harbaugh said. "Then you toss them out and we're recycling paper and all that, and we thought, 'What are we doing?' The guys are so savvy now that it's really given us an opportunity to be so much more flexible because we can put video on it, we can put schedules and calendars on it, we can update them in a blink of an eye. We're not handing out paper, and guys aren't leafing through pages in a book. We put motivational stuff on them all the time. So it's just neat. The guys love it."

Their own app

Turning Harbaugh's vision into reality rested with Fusee, who researched the cost benefits of paper versus tablets (including security measures). Without disclosing the dollar figures associated with producing paper playbooks, Fusee learned that the team would recoup the initial investment of 120 64-gigabyte iPad 2s at $700 each within two years.

Fusee then presented his research to team president Dick Cass, Harbaugh, and the coordinators.

"I told them that if we ever got a third year out of this device, then we'd be way ahead of the game in terms of cash," Fusee recalled. "So I think our president was pretty much sold on it at that point, and he really left the call up to the head coach as far as if he wanted to go ahead with the newer technology."

The organization hired a developer, Global Apptitude, to create a team-based app for the playbook and game plans and bought a site license from DVSport to play videos on the iPads.

Security is the greatest priority with the tablets. Fusee said the encryption for downloading game plans is a 256-bit, Department of Defense-standard encryption. Players are required to turn in their iPads no later than the conclusion of a game, and just in case there is a straggler, there is a "time bomb" on the game plans that automatically deletes them a few hours after a contest.

After powering up the iPad, players must punch in a code to open the tablet and then a login and password to access the playbook app. If someone logs into the app incorrectly three times, all the playbook data is destroyed.

Many apps that exist on the iPads used by the average consumer are blocked. Internet, email and the camera have been disabled.

Fusee conceded that no system is foolproof, but if a player tries to strip off the security, it will disable the playbook app. Fixing it requires a visit with the IT staff, which will need a satisfactory explanation from the player.

Inside linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo made that mistake on back-to-back days. He admitted that he was goofing around the first time it happened. But the second time, he attempted to open an email of notes that he had sent from hisiPhone.

Ayanbadejo said assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg spoke to him privately about the misuses, which was quite different from Harbaugh's approach.

"Harbaugh waited until the team meeting to say in front of everybody, 'Don't be like Brendon Ayanbadejo and try to email yourself stuff on the iPad,'" Ayanbadejo recalled with a sheepish grin. "I went up to Jerry afterward and said, 'I appreciate you, Jerry, for not calling me out in front of everybody.' But it has its limits. It's like having a Ferrari, but you don't have the keys. You can get in there and you can sit in there and it's still yours, but you can't really drive it everywhere."

An adjustment for some

While the players have embraced the technology, it took the coaching staff a little while to bury their old habits.

"These players are accustomed to technical information like this — more so than the coaches," Rosburg said. "We grew up drawing circles and templates. Now it's gone a completely opposite direction. … There is a way of taking notes on it, but it's not quite as convenient [as pencil and paper]. It doesn't happen as quickly as you can with a regular piece of paper. But the coaches have had to adapt in terms of how we present it, and I think it's been a big success."

Redding demonstrated the ease of the iPad, powering it on and opening the video app where he had downloaded numerous clips of Houston Texans left tackle Duane Brown. Redding scrolled through video of Brown run-blocking and pass-blocking and used the touch controls to either rewind or play it in slow motion.

"I love the fact that this organization has caught up with technology as far as saving some trees and going digital," Redding said. "… Having the iPads is cool. It's really quick to find a particular play that you need to look at. You can add stuff on there, and you can take stuff off. I really like it. It's just a world of difference from toting around a big, old, 50-pound book."