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Ravens running the i(Pad) formation

SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Heavy playbooks are out, computers are in for getting game plans in Baltimore.

November 17, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, left, speaks with quarterback Tyrod Taylor prior to a game against Jacksonville last month. Harbaugh says his players prefer to use iPads instead of traditional playbooks.
Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, left, speaks with quarterback Tyrod… (Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated…)

From Baltimore — On Tuesdays, when the rest of the NFL takes a day off, the Baltimore Ravens go full pads.

Full iPads, that is.

Instead of asking their players to lug around massive three-ring binders and stacks of DVDs, the Ravens provide each with an iPad 2 and distribute that information electronically on a weekly basis.

"The guys really like doing it this way," Coach John Harbaugh said. "They won't flip through a playbook anymore. This is so much easier for them."

Harbaugh said the Ravens and Tampa Bay are the only teams to do away with traditional playbooks at this point, but he expects every NFL franchise will make the switch in the near future. One of the many advantages: Players can download that week's game plan Tuesday, typically their day off, rather than waiting to see it for the first time Wednesday.

"I take the iPad everywhere I go, so if something comes up I always have it with me," Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "I could be at the grocery store, and if something pops in my mind I'll just look in the iPad and it's there for me."

Nick Fusee, the team's director of information technology, developed an application that uses specific tabs to separate the material, so players can quickly locate sections such as down-and-distance reports, personnel groups and formations, the perimeter attack, plays for the red zone and short-yardage situations and the like. For instance, the scouting report and game plan for the Ravens' game against Arizona last month was 285 pages.

Harbaugh also keeps an ongoing motivational file, with additional information on historical or Biblical figures he refers to in his talks to the team. So if the players want to read more on the subject, they have that option.

The next version of the app will allow players to tap on the drawing of a play, making video of that play instantly appear. Fusee also envisions an animated playbook that would allow a user to draw a play with a finger, then hit "play" and watch it go.

Fusee's main concern in developing the app was making sure the system was secure and that the information could not be obtained by anyone not with the Ravens. To activate his tablet, a player first has to enter a five-digit code. Then, a user name and password are required to launch the playbook app, and if those are entered incorrectly more than three times in a row, all the information in the app is destroyed.

The game plans come with "time bombs," which erase that week's information by midnight Sunday after the game. And Fusee has the ability to remotely erase the information on any of the 120 units, so even if the device winds up in the wrong hands, the information will not.

"If Ray Lewis loses his in a McDonald's and somebody picks it up and walks away with it, I can click a button and remotely wipe it," Fusee said. "Peace of mind."

The tablets are collected on game day and returned to the players by the following afternoon, loaded with video of the next opponent. Only the video needs to be installed by the Ravens; everything else is downloaded by the players.

Megan McLaughlin, executive assistant to the coaches, handles the collecting and redistributing of the tablets. She said she is using about 5,000 fewer sheets of paper each week, paper that was then shredded at the end of each week.

At the moment, the tablets are used purely for football. The cameras on the units have been deactivated, and the players don't have the capability to use the iPads for games, music or surfing the Web. That hasn't stopped them from asking.

"Right now, in our first year of using them, that's been the biggest thing, how to lock things down," McLaughlin said. "It's going to be one of those things where they keep trying to convince us, 'Oh, we could use this. It would be beneficial.' "

As it is, Baltimore players figure the iPads will help them swipe their way to more takeaways, and drag-and-drop their way to more sacks.

The goal is simple.

On Sundays, the Ravens want to play like — you guessed it — angry birds.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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