Training camp is a time for NFL teams to experiment with new toys. The Los Angeles Rams have been using robotic tackling dummies to simulate hitting without risk of injury. The Dallas Cowboys are using a football that whistles when held correctly by running backs as a way to teach proper technique to cut down on fumbles. But in 2016, the real star of training camp has been an item that’s previously been relegated to the training room.
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The exercise ball has been making a debut all over NFL camps this summer, its main purpose being to simulate either a defender closing in on a running back or a punt returner, or, on the flip side, a ball carrier for defensive players to tackle. At a recent visit to Cleveland Browns training camp, we saw coaches throw exercise balls at the team’s punt returners, rookie Corey Coleman and Taylor Gabriel, who were instructed to dodge and weave to avoid being struck, which they did with varying degrees of success.
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In Chicago, Bears coaches are throwing exercise balls at Jay Cutler and company to simulate a pass rush, or a round and doughy version of it, forcing their quarterbacks to step up in the pocket and move their feet to get a pass off.
The Dallas Cowboys have been ahead of the curve, using exercise balls for their wide receives to catch for the past three training camps. To be honest, we’re not 100 percent sure of the purpose of having wideouts catch something that’s approximately 300 percent larger than a football, but it does make for some incredibly hilarious still photos.
Even outside of training camp, exercise balls reign supreme. We got an up-close look at the benefits of their use when Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray let us tag along for a workout. He spent a large chunk of his time engaged in a sort of dodgeball drill, in which he had to make split-second cuts as his trainer rolled exercise balls at his feet.
So if you’re a youngster and you’re wondering how to practice like your NFL heroes, buy yourself an exercise ball and get out there in the backyard. You’ll be up in the big leagues in no time, sport.