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, Part 1On Sunday, I had a chance to meet with the people behind the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Zebra Technologies. I learned a number of things, not the least of which is that I am ready for this technology to be put into even wider use throughout the league.At its simplest level, Zebra uses small RFID devices to track things. They track a lot of things. The company has a presence in shipping and logistics, in medicine, and now in sports. They keep track of players on the field and the ball in the air. They actually keep track of the referees, too. They obviously produce a wealth of data from all of their tracking, and that data has the potential to change the game even more than it already has.Obviously, there are diehards who like to talk about the human element of the game. There are fans who feel that using RFID chips instead of human judgment somehow takes the passion out of football. I have a couple of responses to this, but the first one is one that the casual fan is simply going to have to take my word on--John Pollard, the VP of Business Development for Zebra, is not going to take the passion out of anything. This is a man who loves his football.What they doBefore explaining Zebra's contributions to football in any greater detail, I have to admit to a certain sense of amusement over the name. I associate "zebras" with the refs in football, and this last week of football demonstrated--once again--that the refs are not exactly perfect when it comes to making accurate and precise calls. There is a big difference between Gene Steratore's use of an index card to determine a first down in a Cowboy-Raiders game and what I saw in action on Sunday.The company has twenty-two sensors in place around the stadium, and they have chips inside shoulder pads for every player (with a third chip to track linemen who might drop their shoulders down when lining up) and in the balls. They track the refs, too, which means that Zebra tracks the zebras (sorry, I couldn't help it). As a result, they can tell how fast Jordan Howard runs when he hits a hole and they can determine the closing speed of a linebacker trying to cut him off.The operation includes three people in a booth--or a catwalk, or wherever the stadium finds to host them--checking each other's work and tracking not just what happens on the field but also checking in with the NFL head office regarding how plays are classified. At any given time, they know who is on the field and they also know the players' directions and speeds.It's important to note that their RFID technology is not the only option available to the game of football. Some systems use optics, like the way tennis determines if a ball hits a line or not, and others use GPS. Pollard explained to me, however, that optics are hard to use in football because of the number of bodies piling up next to each other and that GPS has a lag built in that isn't suffered by the RFID system that relies on the receivers in the same stadium, instead of relying on satellites that are a bit farther away, to say the least.What they do for teamsPollard demonstrated the difference between his data and what most fans used to have access to using a reference Bears fan should appreciate. He pointed out that it didn't matter what 40-yard-dash time Dick Butkus might have had, his sideline-to-sideline speed when closing on another player was terrifying in his era. What Zebra's technology does is quantify that closing speed and then put it into context with the rest of the league.One thing that might surprise the casual fan is how much information they have that is not used. With transmitters sending a signal more than ten times a second, they told me that they can tell me the speed of a pass and even the rotations on the ball in the air--basically, they literally know how well a quarterback is 'spinning' it. The rifling of a pass by Mahomes, Trubisky, or Watson could—in theory-be compared. However, not all of this information gets released.For the entire league, there are agreements in place on who gets what information, and some information is collected as a byproduct of the system without anyone ever seeing it. Obviously, some in the game are worried about distributing information on throwing speed or even player speed, afraid it's going to have negative impacts on the players. At one point, teams only received their own information, so they would get tracking data from half of the game but not from the players lined up on the other side. Now, teams are seeing more information, and they are being more cautious about sharing what they are learning from that information.However, individual teams also have deals with Zebra, and those teams are getting a lot more information. Derek Kenar (their senior operations manager) pointed out that they can track a player coming back from injury and determine if he's getting back up to speed or not. There are interesting implications http://www.bearsfootballauthentics.com/kyle-fuller-jersey-authentic
, too, for teams that track practices and for pregame warm-ups.For example, if a player likes to warm up by throwing a few balls and running around the field, most people probably don't think anything of it. However, if a receiver likes to take laps before the first whistle blows, and if he runs as much before the game as he does during the first quarter of football, should coaches be concerned when his speed slows after the half? How much tread is he wearing off his tires, so to speak? When practice gets involved, if one player throws the ball fifty or sixty times before practice even begins, then there's a chance that player is wearing himself out ahead of schedule.If a player is getting older, how much of a dip in acceleration is concerning? For that matter, if there is no dip in acceleration, and it can be shown numerically, does that prolong a player's career?Another example of one of the implications deals with what staff does for a team. We've heard all season long about how open the Chiefs' wide receivers are getting. Determining how many defenders are within a yard or two of each open receiver used to be a subject for intense film review, hand-counting, and trial-and-error. Now, it can be found with a few clicks on a computer screen. This doesn't mean that there is less work for the staffers, but it does mean that instead of gathering that data the work can now be doing something with it.Teams that embrace the analytical approach are obviously out in the forefront of working with Zebra. The Lions, the Rams, the Cowboys, and the Eagles are all clients of their practice system. Zebra does not have a deal in place with the Bears, even though they are headquartered in Lincolnshire, and the Beloved have another contract through the end of the year. Still, it's probably only a matter of time before more teams partner up with this company.Zebra vs Zebra?Go back to Gene Steratore and his Index Card of Destiny. When the technology exists to figure out exactly how far ball advanced down to the tenth of a second, or when a program can tell officials exactly how many players really were on the field at the time of a snap without relying on human judgment, then the game changes. There are hundreds of things that currently rely on human discretion, and while Pollard and Kenar didn't bring it up, I found myself thinking about what happens when the genie gets just a little bit more out of the bottle and that number can be cut in half.Speaking only for myself, I'd rather have a millimeter-precise program tell me where the ball was if my choice is either the program or the same people who called the Browns-Raiders game. The NFL is, probably wisely, keeping this technology carefully regulated. Fans of almost any sport have their stories of times that visual replay clearly indicated the call on the field (or on the court, or whatever) was wrong, and over time that forced the professional leagues to adapt and to incorporate the new technology.I am sure that there is recorded data somewhere that would validate a number of controversial referee decisions, and I am equally sure that there is data that would be embarrassing to the officials at a game. For me, I just want the game to be called as fairly and as consistently as possible. That sounds like something that can be made better with this technology, but I know some will disagree.Like I said at the opening, I am ready for us to have a richer picture of the game, and more accurate information about what really happens on the field. Next up, I want to share some of what Next Gen Stats is already telling us about the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears.Chicago Bears: Predicting the final roster The Chicago Bears, along with the other 31 NFL teams, will be wrapping up their preseason schedule tomorrow night. Following the end of games, close to half the league currently signed to rosters will be on the move on or before Saturday afternoon at 4 pm. Eastern time.For the most part, teams have an a good idea of who will be on the first version of the "final" 53-man roster. The Bears are no exception, and they've already released veteran offensive lineman Earl Watford.With at least 36 more moves to make before Saturday's deadline http://www.bearsfootballauthentics.com/adrian-amos-jersey-authentic
, it's time to take one final crack on what the team's roster will look like before waiver claims on Sunday.Quarterback (2): Mitchell Trubisky and Chase DanielRon Chenoy-USA TODAY SportsI've maintained that the team would only keep a pair of quarterbacks and barring injury, I don't see that changing.Daniel's performance against the Chiefs should convince most fans that he's their best backup, never mind the $7 million guaranteed.Due to having such a young team and still a few holes, the Bears aren't in a position to use another roster spot on a player that will be inactive on game days like Tyler Bray.Running Back (4): Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, and Michael BurtonBrace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY SportsThe top three have been set for sometime and if you had already forgotten, Cunningham showed his value again last Saturday.It's also likely that Burton has a role as the team's only fullback. This means three players could battle for a final roster spot, although keeping four true running backs is not a guarantee. If the Bears choose to keep an extra, Nall is the best of the three and offers the most versatile skill set.Wide Receiver (6): Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy and Javon WimsDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SportsBarring a trade of White, you can lock these six down. Wims is far too valuable to risk trying to sneak him through waivers. It's also quite possible that Wims could end up playing a role in the Bears' offense this coming season. Marlon Brown or Bennie Fowler could be an option if the Bears aren't sold on Bellamy, which is doubtful at this point.Tight End (4): Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims and Ben BrauneckerDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SportsThere's been some talk that the team could opt to keep both Daniel Brown and Braunecker, pending Shaheen's injury. I don't see that happening. Regardless of how bad his sprain is, it's not something that would warrant an injured reserve stint.Braunecker has appeared a little more involved, and at least in my evaluation, the better blocker. Either way, not sure the Bears can go wrong with their choice between him and Daniel Brown.Offensive Line (8): Charles Leno, James Daniels, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Bobby Massie, Eric Kush, Bradley Sowell, Rashaad CowardKamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsWith Earl Watford now released, this projection becomes a bit more clear. Four of the five starters are set. In addition, both Kush and Daniels will be on the roster as well.Hroniss Grasu was never likely to make the roster but MMQB's Albert Breer's latest report that Grasu is on the block, says everything you need to know about his roster status.Ultimately, the final spot comes down between Coward and interior lineman Will Pericak. It appears the edge is with Coward right now, as he's developed at a tremendous rate on top of playing a more valuable position at tackle. It's also a much larger risk trying to sneak him onto the practice squad instead of Pericak.Defensive Line (6): Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Roy Robertson-Harris, Jonathan Bullard, Bilal Nichols and John JenkinsKamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsThis is another positional group that appears locked in. The top five guys are locks and I'd argue that Jenkins is there as well.Veteran Nick Williams has had an impressive preseason, but it comes down to a numbers game and for that, he's on the outside looking in.Inside Linebacker (4): Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Roquan Smith, Joel IyiegbuniweQuinn Harris-USA TODAY SportsUnless the Bears decide that keeping five here is a good idea Womens Nick Kwiatkoski Jersey
, this group is locked down as well. Iyiegbuniwe is someone who will be a developmental project, but also someone who has already seen a nice role on special teams.The biggest question here is when does Smith start?Outside Linebacker (5): Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Isaiah Irving, Aaron Lynch, Kylie FittsDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SportsOf all the positional groups on this roster, this appears to be the hardest one to project.Outside of Floyd and Acho, no one is safe. As of now, who has proved themselves? An argument could be made for Irving, but Lynch has still yet to play, Edebali is a 29-year-old vet with limited upside, and rookie Kylie Fitts has looked slow and very much like a long-term project.Ultimately, I think the Bears could end up keeping Edebali and sneaking Fitts onto the practice squad. For the time being, I'll project all draft choices making the final roster.This is also an edge group that is almost guaranteed not to look the same after Sunday's waiver wire chaos.Cornerback (6): Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Marcus Cooper, Sherrick McManisPatrick Gorski-USA TODAY SportsAs much as I want to slot someone like Kevin Toliver II in this slot, I can't. The depth here has been ordinary at best and even with Cooper being out, no one could take advantage.If one of Fuller or Amukamara goes down, expect Callahan to slide outside and LeBlanc to be the first off the bench.Both Toliver and Michael Joseph are prime practice squad candidates.Safety (5): Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Deiondre HallDennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY SportsDeAndre Houston-Carson has a broken arm and could head to injured reserve but Nagy says that isn't likely. Despite being suspended for Week 1, expect Hall to somehow make the team, at least until the Bears can make a move this weekend. If they choose not to make a move and wait out both Hall and Houston-Carson, McManis could fill in as an emergency safety.The other three are locks.Special Teams (3): Cody Parkey, Patrick O'Donnell and Patrick ScalesQuinn Harris-USA TODAY SportsThe only true battle here has been at punter. As much of a value as someone like Tanner Carew could be at long snapper, it appears he was brought in for extra work for the two punters.The Bears' punting competition may have slipped through the cracks over the last few weeks. Looking at the numbers heading into tomorrow, O'Donnell has twice as many punts (10) as Ryan Winslow, but the numbers are similar. The undrafted rookie has also had better hang time numbers.I always side with the veteran in this situation, but this is one that could end up going either way.Practice Squad (10): OL Jordan Morgan, CB Michael Joseph, CB Kevin Toliver II, RB Ryan Nall, WR Demarcus Ayers, DL Cavon Walker, OLB Elijah Norris, WR Tanner Gentry, LB Josh Woods, OL Will Pericak.