By Stephen Whyno
AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. — Amid the hooting and hollering at Washington Redskins minicamp, there’s a different sound in the air during running back drills.
Coaches whack at the football with Matt Jones carrying it, and it beeps. Then it beeps longer.
That’s a good sign.
The Redskins are one of five NFL teams using so-called beeping or whistling footballs to emphasize ball security. When the ball is being held correctly with the fundamental five points of pressure, it emits an audible beeping sound at about 80 decibels to tell a player he’s doing it right.
“If I had that ball in high school, I don’t think I would’ve had a fumble,” Jones said. “It’s teaching me how to squeeze the ball at the point of contact. Everything has changed about me holding the ball.”
Cutting down on fumbles is the goal of the ball, developed by Division II Northwood University assistant coach Tom Creguer and used by the Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and several college teams, including Tennessee and Michigan State. The San Diego Chargers plan to start using them at training camp.
Creguer said practicing with “High and Tight” footballs , which cost about $150 each, reduced Northwood’s fumbles by 63 percent last season. Many NFL position coaches got the lowdown on them at the scouting combine.
“It basically reinforces the proper hold by teaching the athlete to put their forearm to the panel, their panel to the chest and to compress the ball evenly with equal distribution of pressure, therefore creating basically a vice around the football, creating that muscle memory of what it feels like to have the ball secured to their body at all times,” Creguer said in a phone interview.
Coaches have taught ball security for decades, but this technology adds another element. Creguer said Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown texted him that he’ll use the beeping footballs as long as he’s working.
That doesn’t mean Cowboys players warmed up to them right away.
“They didn’t like it at first,” Brown said. “I think it was just the pressure you had to do it. They’re not used to squeezing it that hard.”
Players aren’t the only ones adjusting to how to squeeze a football tight enough. During a presentation on ball security, Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock demonstrated and then tossed the ball to coach John Harbaugh, who couldn’t get it to beep.
“I’ve been working out; I feel like I’m pretty strong right now,” Harbaugh said with a laugh. “Found out later the battery was dead, for the record. I’m sticking to it, that’s right.”
On the field, though, it seems to be working. Brown said Cowboys running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris fumbled less during organized team activates and mini camp after working with the beeping balls in drills.
Morris said he got a cramp in his forearm the first day, but thinks it’ll help in games when there are defenders bearing down on him and trying to strip the ball. With so much to think about, he wants holding the ball to be second nature.
“It’s easy to just, like, ‘I got to make this guy miss.’ You don’t think about, ‘I need to keep the ball tight too,’” Morris said. “So doing something like that can kind of reiterate like, hey, keep the ball tight.”
Colts running back Robert Turbin has only lost one fumble in 281 career carries, but is open to new ideas about how to get better. He had never seen anything like the beeping footballs.
“All running backs fumble, but as they say, iron sharpens iron, so just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you can’t get better at it,” Turbin said.
For Jones and the Redskins, it’s about fixing a known problem. Jones lost four fumbles as a rookie, and with Morris gone he must improve in that area as Washington’s top back.
Running backs coach Randy Jordan, who played nine seasons for the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, struggled to get the football to beep at first. After he and his players figured it out, Jordan has noticed a major improvement, especially from Jones.
“It’s got to a point now when he goes through his drills, he’s looking for that football,” Jordan said last week. “I can say when we’re going through the drill, ‘When you get a collision or you get ready for somebody to strip the ball, I want to hear the beep.’ So you go from kind of casually holding it to like gripping it really tight.”
Jones doesn’t want to let go. He’s planning to buy a ball to use over the summer break in Florida before training camp begins to keep up the practice.
Other running backs may soon follow suit.
“Ball security, that’s the most important thing on the field,” Morris said. “That’s one thing you don’t want to do is turn the ball over.”