Kyle Shanahan was working with Zebra Technologies, the company that collects all of the NFL Next Gen data, during Super Bowl week in Atlanta, and the coach shared how he and the 49ers staff use the information to their advantage.
While each player, game ball and referee is tracked in every NFL game, not every team tracks its players during practice. The 49ers do, though, and Shanahan explained why.
"We've been using the heck out of them the last few years,” Shanahan said this week on ESPN's "Golic and Wingo." "We track all of our players. It tells you how fast a guy is, how slow a guy is. It's been great for us.
"You always try to temper practice and things like that. 'Hey, I think our guys are doing too much, let’s take it down.' But you were always going off your gut feel."
With accurate tracking during practice, the 49ers can see how much a player has run in each session. It will indicate if a player is markedly inconsistent or not reaching their peak speed.
"We always want guys to run their fastest on Sunday," Shanahan said, "but you don't want to run your fastest seven days a week. But if you only run your fastest on Sunday, that's going to make you much more susceptible to pulling hamstrings and things like that.
"We always try to get them to get to their max speed at least one time during a week before Sunday. Now, instead of a guy just telling us he's running his fastest, we can actually see."
Shanahan joked that while it does make players a little paranoid, it helps everyone. The science and tracking behind it assists the training staff to understand how to keep players from becoming overworked.
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If a player has a sudden drop-off in production, it opens communication. They can explain a sickness or soreness, and practice reps can be modified.
"If there's ever a red flag on something," Shanahan said, "like, 'Hey, this guy has always been this way every Wednesday, and for some reason this Wednesday, he was at this number. What’s wrong with him?' 'Oh he was sick today.' So, that makes sense.
"This is something we’ve done our whole career, but you're actually just guessing and going off watching people and stuff. So it's nice just to have some numbers with it."
The technology not only is used to track current players but prospects as well. Every player at last month's Senior Bowl was monitored, and it will help staffs evaluate players heading into the NFL draft. That just proves Next Gen stats have become a valuable tool for coaches and scouts around the league.