All-Pro George Kittle knows very well that when your first plan doesn’t work, you pivot, adjust your focus, and find the destination through a different route.
The 49ers tight end, along with most NFL players, has had to find a way to practice during the offseason individually with team facilities being closed. Thankfully for Kittle, Monarc Sport has given him the ability to hone his receiving skills without the need of a quarterback.
Sawyer Theisen, a longtime friend of the Kittle family and fellow Iowa alum, saw an opportunity over four years ago and set a plan in motion. The end product is the robotic quarterback that Kittle has shown himself practicing with on social media.
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Big thanks to @monarcsport for bringing the QB to me! Details in the personalization are crazy... feel like a kid again playin in the backyard. 🃏Can’t wait to log some serious hours on this bad boy!! Shoutout to my boys @sawyertheis and @kennyman21 for welcoming me to the Monarc family!🙌🏻
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The idea of the Seeker was born through former New England Patriots receiver Riley McCarron, back when he was a walk-on wide receiver for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He grew frustrated, unable to get enough reps in practice to fine-tune his skills.
Theisen did a little research and discovered that the most recent patent for a throwing machine had expired some 50 years prior.
The Seeker is not your average throwing and kicking machine. Such versatility has enticed several NCAA football programs that already have instituted its use. Oklahoma, LSU, SMU, Virginia and Iowa are among the converts.
What differentiates the Monarc machine from a traditional JUGS machine is that it can be controlled remotely which allows a player to be able to practice alone. A location tag, worn on the hip of the player allows the machine to know exactly where to send the ball, but those features are just the tip of the iceberg.
Videos of players working with traditional JUGS machines have been seen all too often. The player stands in a static position, not even looking at the machine, and usually catches the ball effortlessly because it has the exact same trajectory on each rep. The Monarc eliminates that predictability.
“With our stationary gauntlet feature, that’s the video George posted, you actually have the option to set it on random so every single ball can come to a different spot within your catch radius,” Theisen told NBC Sports Bay Area.
“From the very top of elite NFL receivers that we’ve worked with, down to high school players, every single player has dropped the second ball on the stationary gauntlet because they are so used to checking out mentally.”
The Seeker also can help a player work on a particular skillset they are trying to master. Arc, hang time and distance are all part of the programming options for the user as a solo operator. It can help a player practice catching over the shoulder passes while running a variety of routes, high-pointing a ball or even catching a throw at the sidelines.
“With our machine we have a touch screen on it and you’re shown a full football field,” Theisen said. “For a pass, you set the arc and the body position, and then you just use the joystick to fire.”
Customizing punts and kicks also are easily facilitated.
“Let’s say you want a punt to the left hash on the 45, you just literally click with your finger exactly where you want it for a punt or a kick," Theisen said. "You set the hang-time using the hang-time slider. It essentially turns anyone at the helm of the machine into an All-Pro kicker or punter.”
The Monarc product can also throw, kick and punt both left and right-handed or footed. Often an NFL team will sign a lefty kicker for game preparation if that’s what they are facing in the upcoming week. Upping reps for returners is readily available with the use of the Seeker.
Theisen describes the 250-pound throwing unit as easily portable, having driven it across the country for Kittle to test in San Jose. The 49ers tight end liked the concept so much that he invested in the company along with 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard and New England wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
What had looked like a challenging spring season with college facilities shuttered due to the global pandemic, Thiesen and his three co-founders found a way to pivot. Now with a focus on the need of NFL players to get reps in alone during the offseason, interest in their product has increased dramatically.
Kittle has found his offseason stand-in for Jimmy Garoppolo and just like the quarterback, the machine won't be texting him back either.