For the first time, the footballs the Eagles use in Training Camp this summer, in the preseason games, and throughout the 2017 season will have a chip inserted under the laces of the ball. The chips will help the team gather a great deal of data to share with the coaching staff and fans, providing a treasure trove of facts on the game that have never been seen before.
The data collected for fans will be more limited this season but it will still be fun and informative. But will the more in-depth data help coaches win games? That is the question, says James Hanisch, the Eagles' director of performance science, can a simple Wilson football provide the coaching staff and players with real insight that is meaningful?
The chip is manufactured by Chicago-based Zebra Technologies and Wilson implements the chip as it builds each football. Within the chip in each football are two accelerometers – one measures low impacts, the other measures high. The NFL experimented with the chip technology last season in preseason games and in the Pro Bowl, using just the low-G accelerometer. This year, it's all systems go for every game with the addition of the high-G accelerometer.
"I think it's a two-fold benefit," Hanisch says. "We can track reps of passes and reps of kicks and put together a volume metric. This will give us an understanding of the practice demands of the quarterbacks and special teams players. The second part is putting it all together with the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs and combine all the information and how it relates the plays being run and see how it all comes together from a quantitative standpoint."
The data culled from the chip will be available very shortly after each session, practice, or game, and will include measurables such as the distance the football is thrown or kicked, the velocity of the ball in the air, and the average rotations per throw or kick. A third benefit, then, is the fan experience of seeing the numbers and comparing them week over week, player to player.
This is just the start of chip technology in the football, and it's an important one. Information is king and the Eagles hope to use the data – and to push for more metrics to gather – and learn as much as they can about the players and their performance on the football field.
"I'm really excited," Hanisch says. "This gives us an opportunity to test and monitor information that we couldn't before and it also gives us a great lane to provide more in-depth information to the coaching staff."
The Eagles have long embraced technology, and this is yet another iteration with more data to consider as the NFL expands its Next Gen Statistics capabilities. The possibilities are relatively limitless.
"We're going to take the data and use it in every way that we can," says Shaun Huls, the Eagles' director of high performance. "We're going to have more information available to us as we measure all of the forces that impact a football during the course of a game and a practice. It's exciting to get another level of information."