Monday was a big day for the Green Bay Packers. The team got Elgton Jenkins back at right tackle with the first-team offensive line and head coach Matt LaFleur put his team through a final walkthrough practice before the arrival of the New Orleans Saints for joint practices on Tuesday.
But it was an even bigger day than that, thanks to the arrival of a new toy at training camp. The Seeker, a new high-tech football launching machine from robotics startup Monarc Sport, showed up on the field at Monday’s practice and immediately drew the attention of members of the coaching staff and the media alike.
LaFleur’s public displeasure with the Packers’ old JUGS machine dates back almost two weeks to early in camp, when the previous unit — featuring a design that has remained relatively unchanged for decades — had an off day.
“We’re in the market for a new JUGS machine,” LaFleur said on August 3rd, following the Packers’ struggles with the unit the day prior. “If anyone has one out there, they want to donate, or put whatever price you want on it, I don’t care. We have to get a new JUGS machine. I’ve never seen anything like that. That thing was ridiculous.”
Jugs, Inc. has been around for over 50 years, and that machine seems to have been a reliable staple of football practices for almost as long. But about two weeks after LaFleur’s rant, the Monarc Seeker has arrived in Green Bay, seemingly to stay.
A company founded by a pair of mechanical engineering graduates from Northwestern University, Monarc has units installed at several college football programs as well as in private workout locations for some NFL players. This is the company’s first install with an NFL team, however, so we at Acme Packing Company decided to find out more about this new unit and the company behind it to learn more about the new toy that will be delivering footballs to members of the Packers’ roster.
Our Jon Meerdink reached out to Monarc on Monday afternoon to discuss the company’s background and its apparent breakthrough in to the NFL market, exchanging questions with the company’s founders, Igor Karlicic and Bhargav Maganti. As part of the Q&A, APC was also able to learn which player on the Packers’ roster is most responsible for the unit’s installation in Green Bay, though Monarc has evidently been in discussions with the Packers for some time.
Without further ado, here is a great introduction to Monarc and its flagship product from those who know it best.
JM: First, what is a Seeker? I think we’ve all seen JUGS machines at football practices before, but this looks like something entirely different.
Monarc: The Seeker’s the world’s first and only robotic quarterback, punter, and kicker. It enables teams to create and save ultra-accurate passes that save them time and help automate practice. By pairing this with our “Pulse tag” tracking system, it also enables athletes to train alone for the first time in football.
JM: In a previous writeup in The Athletic, it’s mentioned that the Seeker uses ultra-wideband tracking to have a 6-in margin of error. Do the receivers have some sort of “tile”-like device?
Monarc: Yes—we call it a Pulse. It’s a pager-sized device athletes place on their hip that communicates position back to the Seeker.
JM: I’ve seen claims that you can replicate different passing styles; can the Seeker replicate spiral RPMs or spiral quality? If you can do that, would it be possible to prepare “profiles” and things like that? For instance, say a team is facing a directional punter vs. a big-leg guy and wants to practice versus the specific kicks. Or say they’d like to give receivers practice catching from different QBs without the specific guys having to be there. Would that be possible?
Monarc: We’re looking at doing profiles in the future, but only for internal team usage to be able to build synergy with your own quarterbacks. Teams are (understandably) private with their data and don’t want their competition getting a head start on preparing for them. What most teams do right now is save specific plays based on their video data. With the Seeker, you can precisely modulate timing, arc, velocity, and body positioning. We’re also looking to replicate spiral RPMs in the future, but that’s not currently offered.
The most important point we always try to communicate is that we are not looking to replace quarterbacks, punters, or kickers. There’s no replacement for the chemistry between players on a field but those reps are few in supply. Our goal is to augment those game-like reps to keep players healthy and provide quality work to all pass-catchers on a team.
JM: How did the Seeker come into existence? How long was your development process?
Monarc: The Seeker initially came about as a fun project, an intellectually-stimulating challenge: how can we create a way for receivers to train alone? Both mechanical engineers by study, we developed a prototype and took it to the University of Iowa, who welcomed the concept of what we were pitching. They realized the potential impact that our initial prototypes could have, and encouraged us to continue our development. The reactions from the staff and players was compelling enough to convince us to quit our jobs and commit to this full-time. We spent four years developing the Seeker from that point on—two in Iowa city and two in Dallas, which has been our company headquarters since 2018.
JM: How did Monarc get connected with the Packers? You mention on your site that George Kittle uses one, and Packers tight end Robert Tonyan works out with Kittle in the offseason. Did that play a factor?
Monarc: We’ve been in communication with the Packers for several years. They saw a demo with one of our prototypes several years ago and Adrian Amos is one of the 12 NFL pros to have their own. While we’re tremendously grateful for the support from pro players (like Rob) all across the country, we’ve been holding off on entering the NFL market until we had the right partner and the right set of circumstances. We want customers using our product really well and we know we have that with the Packers.
JM: The Packers are your first NFL client. Have you heard from anyone else?
Monarc: As we have with the Packers, we’ve been in some form of communication with most NFL teams. From the days of our early development, we’ve been sharing iterations of our product to teams at the college and professional level to collect feedback and develop the technology into what it is today.
JM: What else does Monarc have in the works? You’ve already got a football launcher available — do you have anything else on the way?
Monarc: We have a few projects we’re really excited about but can’t comment on at this time. Our goal is to totally transform the way athletes train in the future and the Seeker is the first step in materializing that vision.
We want to thank Igor and Bhargav for taking the time to answer our questions and will look forward to following their company’s progress and, hopefully, their product’s positive impact on the Green Bay Packers this season as well.