Case Keenum’s re-birth as a flamethrowing quarterback has been an instrumental aspect of Minnesota earning a bye week before the Vikings open up their postseason in the divisional round against the New Orleans Saints. Like many ex-Jeff Fisher quarterbacks, Keenum was an utterly pedestrian NFL passer who has found a new gear in a new environment. While the post-Fisher surge is real, much of the credit for his breakout season can also be credited to virtual reality.
This season, the Vikings utilized STRIVR, a Silicon Valley startup that enables athletes to run through plays in virtual reality without taking 90 percent of the physical toll. Keenum took advantage of the technology after seeing the demo while he was a member of the Rams and it was beneficial in getting him ready after Sam Bradford’s body began failing him.
“A lot of guys who are starters don’t think they need it anymore because they’re getting reps on the field,” Belch said. “[Keenum] said, ‘No, I think this is something that would be even more valuable as a starter as a supplemental preparation tool.’”
As a result, Keenum has had thousands of additional mental reps. In total since he took over starting duties in Week 2, Keenum has viewed 2,647 plays through virtual reality, which translated to him getting to review every play the Vikings have run this season two to three times from a mental standpoint over the course of the year, according to STRIVR’s tracking data.
All of that has added up to hours of cumulative mental practice on top of what he’s doing physically.
How much of Keenum’s success can be attributed to STRIVR’s virtual reality tech is immeasurable, but from the sounds of it, the cumulative effect of gaining 2,647 extra mental reps has given him a similar edge to the one Bill Murray’s Phil Connors had in “Groundhog Day.” He’s run through these plays so often thanks to the virtual reality repetition that he went through his progressions more instinctively than usual. To put that number in perspective, 2,600 plays would be more than twice as many in-game snaps as he took this season.
At the end of each week, the quarterback goes in to Minnesota’s VR room at the practice facility to do a touch-up review and his last-minute checklist on a handful of the Vikings’ passing and blitz concepts. Over the course of 20 to 25 minutes, he’s able to comb through a few hundred reps as part of his final preparation.
Of course, nothing can replace live reps, but it’s the additional help that can result in a half second of information processing, which in turn could be the difference between finding an open receiver and getting flustered and throwing a frantic incompletion or taking a sack. This season, Keenum led the NFL in QBR under pressure and when blitzed, all while learning an entire new offense.
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