Chip Kelly, known for his smarts, once tried to build a dummy.
“It broke after the first tackle,” the 49ers coach said Wednesday. “It went really fast, but ...”
The idea of a motorized tackling dummy was perfected by a friend of Kelly’s, Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens, who developed one that not only moves but can withstand the pounding of an NFL training camp practice.
The 49ers ordered three – they officially are known as Mobile Virtual Players – and put them to the test this week in practice. The offensive linemen were the first to take a whack at the new recruits.
Kelly said the main advantage – which was Teevens’ inspiration – is that his players can practice concepts that may be risky against a human.
“Obviously, you’re not going to cut-block a player in practice, but you can cut-block a bag,” Kelly said. “I think it’s a huge step for everybody. You want to get accomplished a lot of things in training sessions, but you also want to do it from a safe standpoint and in a safe environment. A lot of times, it’s not the guy doing the tackling, it’s the guy getting tackled (who gets hurt). So the fact that the guy getting tackled is an inanimate object lends itself to something I think we’ll be doing more of.”
The dummies are operated by remote control, can reach speeds of 18 mph – covering 40 yards in five seconds – and change directions with the flick of a switch. And, of course, they pop back up after being hit.
The Raiders, Rams, Ravens, Panthers and Steelers have been practicing with the mobile dummies this summer. Kelly said there’s an application for just about every position group.
“The longer our coaches put their heads together, there are a lot of different things you can use them for,” Kelly said. “We do a lot of work with sleds and dummies, but now you have a dummy that can move. I don’t think there’s a limitation from where we are from that standpoint.”
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman said he hasn’t experienced the new dummies yet but a teammate had.
“One guy tried to do something on it and it didn’t turn out well for him,” he said. “So I’m going to leave the dummies alone.”
Did that unnamed player whiff on a tackle attempt?
“He tried to tackle a robot – the robot tackled him,” Bowman said.
Armstead’s return? – Defensive lineman Arik Armstead missed the 49ers’ first two preseason games with a shoulder injury. Bowman on Wednesday said he’d like to play behind the second-year player – presumably a Week 1 starter – before the regular season begins in order to perfect their chemistry.
“It’s huge,” Bowman said. “I mean, running backs can cut on a dime. So we have to be on the same page (as far as) linebackers and defensive line. Because we as linebackers have to be able to cut just like a running back. … We definitely need to spend a lot of time together.”
Bowman said that Armstead, who injured the shoulder Aug. 7, has “definitely been in it with his mind and now he’s back out there participating. But it’s better to have him out there.”
Another first-round pick at defensive end, DeForest Buckner, has practiced in full this week after he sat out last Saturday’s game in Denver with a lower leg injury. Buckner is on track to play Friday against the Packers.
Injuries – Wide receivers DeAndre Smelter (hamstring) and Bryce Treggs (knee) are not expected to play in Friday’s game. Neither is linebacker Nick Bellore (knee).