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NFL playbook security ramps up

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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The recent National Security Administration scandal was yet another reminder that nothing is safe in cyberspace.

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That isn’t slowing the NFL’s technical revolution.

Kansas City and Jacksonville are two of the latest franchises to place their playbooks on iPads for the first time this offseason. Like many of their computer-savvy peers, Chiefs and Jaguars players now have more helpful tools like video, voice note and search capabilities at their fingertips on a lightweight tablet rather than having to use the traditional thick binders filled only with page after page of Xs and Os.

“It’s the amount of information you can store in an efficient way,” said John Pollard, the general manager of STATS Sports Solutions group. “You could literally have a combination of analytics and performance metrics and scouting reports merged with the playbook. You have easier access to information.

“You could probably have every NFL playbook stored on a single iPad. Imagine what the volume of that would be in the physical world. That would be crazy.”

The Associated Press reported that 14 NFL teams had converted to iPads exclusively for their playbooks during the 2012 season with three others (including Kansas City) using the tablets to augment game preparation.

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All the teams have gone to great lengths to make sure their iPads don’t get hacked -- and safety nets put into place in case one gets lost or, dare we say, in the wrong hands.

“Our security is very strong,” a Chiefs spokesman told FOX Sports. “The iPads will be managed by a mobile device management console along with multifactor level security.”

The precautions don’t end there.

If a player loses an iPad – which usually results in a five-figure fine – the team can wipe it clean remotely. That is something that can't be done with a hardcopy playbook. Even though those are collected at season’s end or when a player is released, one former league executive told FOX Sports that copies from every squad are “floating out there.”

The team can also wipe it clean after three unsuccessful attempts to enter a password. Clubs also have placed “time bombs” in iPads that erase all material at a set deadline like immediately prior to kickoff.

Pollard acknowledges the possibility of an NFL cyberspace breach still exists but believes the odds of that happening are far lower than in mainstream forms of internet transactions by both private companies and the government.

“You’re talking about teams being small enough where there’s a finite amount of people using (the iPads),” said Pollard, whose company provides statistical analysis and metrics to subscribing NFL teams. “That makes security easier because there’s less variations of access and uses.”

(An argument can be made that playbooks themselves can’t provide an opponent an edge without further access to the game plan and the play-calling lingo specific to that contest. For example, the phrase “Texas” could mean something different one week than the next. But the New England Patriots made a similar contention in claiming they didn’t gain a competitive advantage when illegally taping sideline signal-calling during the Spygate scandal of 2007. The NFL didn’t buy the argument and levied six-figure fines against the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick for the practice.)

Jaguars running back Justin Forsett was tinkering with his iPad on Tuesday night following Jacksonville’s minicamp practice. Forsett said the device was clean of any non-football applications – sorry, no Angry Birds or Pandora -- and didn’t allow Internet access from his residence.

“It’s strictly playbook,” Forsett said.

A six-year veteran who has never used an iPad playbook before, Forsett admitted he is still taking handwritten notes to assist his computer study.

“I’m more of an old-school guy. I need to be able to write things down in a notebook,” he said. “But the thing I really like about the iPad is that you don’t have to go to the facility to watch film of practice, opposing teams or whatnot. You can watch it right on your iPad.”

Hopefully for the Jaguars, Forsett is the only one doing so on his own device.

Tagged: Jaguars, Justin Forsett

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