By TIM REYNOLDS
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — From a camera perched atop a sideline tower on the Miami practice field, it seemed like Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya misread a particular play.
The camera hovering five feet over his head showed otherwise.
With the help of an affordable $500 toy, Miami coaches and players are studying film like never before. The Hurricanes are using a drone with a camera attached to capture their practices, now studying footage gleaned from its unusual vantage points along with what’s collected from more traditional places like sidelines and end zones.
“It’s all about getting the players information they need so they can play fast and execute,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “This drone, in terms of quarterback play, I don’t know if there’s any other way to do it anymore.”
Miami isn’t the first to bring a drone into practices. UCLA made headlines last spring when it revealed it has embraced the drone point of view, and Tennessee and Louisville are among the few other schools who are known to have tinkered with the technology.
Miami isn’t just tinkering. The drone is necessary equipment now for the Hurricanes, who are planning to acquire more and better ones soon, and it will soon be part of Miami’s recruiting pitches.
“We’ve always been behind in sports when it comes to technology,” Miami offensive coordinator James Coley said. “Coaches don’t like change. Nobody does this, not the way we do this.”
Coley said he started seriously thinking about bringing a drone into practice this summer. He was on vacation in the British Virgin Islands and noticed one of the small devices hovering about.
He eventually ordered a drone and five battery packs, since the flying time on each battery was only about eight minutes per charge. The Hurricanes put the drone into regular use starting around late September, and it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Kaaya — the team’s true freshman quarterback — has been making better decisions ever since.
“When you see from the drone’s point of view, you get a complete panoramic view of the field,” Kaaya told The Associated Press. “You see what I’m seeing. You see the whole field better and then it’s easier to show coaches what I was thinking at any given moment.”
Coley calls it a gamechanging advantage, and as he held a remote control Monday inside the Miami offensive meeting room he eagerly displayed what he meant by showing the same play from various angles.
Kaaya was throwing the ball to a receiver on the right sideline, the far side of the field from where a camera atop a sideline tower was rolling. That angle, from perhaps as much as 60 yards away, suggested Kaaya’s throw — which tailed back slightly toward the middle of the field before getting caught — should have been sent more down the sideline.
Without the drone, Coley would have chided Kaaya for the mistake. But the drone gave a much better angle of what the defender was doing, and why Kaaya moved his receiver slightly off the sideline to make the play.
“You see that? He did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Coley said. “And I wouldn’t have known that. That drone, we got to see exactly what he was seeing. We got to see his guy getting pushed toward the sideline, so he throws it away from the defensive back. There’s so much coaching that doesn’t happen because you don’t get all the angles. We get them now.”
The drone, which gets moved to show numerous angles in each practice, has also led to some interesting moments.
Players have been known to gesture wildly at the drone after making a big play. Kaaya had to learn to get used to having a machine buzzing — “it’s like rabid Africanized bees,” he said — not far from his helmet. And during the week where Miami prepped for Duke, a higher-powered drone than what Miami uses was spotted at practice; ultimately, it was deemed to be a fraternity prank.
“I was thinking it was Duke,” Kaaya said. “They’re pretty smart over there.”
It wasn’t Duke, and spying isn’t permitted under NCAA rules. Teams can use it at their own practices only, not games.
One other small drawback: The angle is such that some players who suffer from motion sickness struggle to watch.
“It’s close enough to the action, but you can see what’s going on in the whole field,” Kaaya said. “Every year, every college is looking to reinvent the wheel. You always have to come up with new ways, new technology. It’s good to keep up with the times. And it helps.”