49ers join growing trend with electronic playbooks
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SANTA CLARA -- Quarterback Colt McCoy admits it took awhile to catch onto the 49ers playbook. But, now, he's getting the hang of it.

And when he talks about the 49ers playbook, he's actually talking about the team-issued iPad.

All the 49ers' plays, including access to all of their practice video, is available on the iPads. Gone are the days of the huge binders stuffed with reams of printed material.

"It's all on our iPad," McCoy said. "I can watch the play, flip back and visualize the play, and I can go back and look at the next play. I'm really liking the iPad. I learn pretty well that way."

The 49ers have joined about half of the teams in the NFL this season to officially make the switch. Most of the players and all of the coaches are iPad neophytes.

The biggest advantage, as coach Jim Harbaugh sees it, is the video component.

"Not to get into an argument about binders, or paper or iPads but, the biggest thing is video," Harbaugh said. "You get the video on the iPads. These guys can walk around and download today's practice and be watching it wherever they are -- back at the hotel or sitting in the cafeteria eating or in the training room. They can watch video more often than they would otherwise. That's huge."

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That ability to take work home -- or back to the team hotel -- is especially important for newcomers to the team, such as veteran wide receivers Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins, who signed on Friday and have a lot of catching up to do.

Also, players in new roles can benefit. Cornerback Tramaine Brock is competing to take over in the team's nickel defense for Chris Culliver, who sustained a season-ending knee injury last week.

"We're a lot of help to him," cornerback Carlos Rogers said, "but he's going to stay on that iPad a little longer than he's used to."

In the past, there was fear that a lost or stolen playbook could end up in the wrong hands and create a huge a competitive disadvantage. With the iPad, the information on a missing tablet can be remotely wiped clean.

McCoy said it has been an adjustment for every player after using a traditional playbook at every levels of their careers.

"Some guys a little slower than others," he said. "I'd be one of the slower guys. I've always liked to write things down and highlight them, write my own little notes. But you can type out your notes on there. It's pretty neat."

McCoy has taken advantage of the technology to help him spend more time learning the offense. McCoy spent his first three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He had not been exposed to the iPad playbook before this season.

"As soon as we get in the locker room, the practice film has already been downloaded on the iPad," McCoy said. "So I can grab a quick bite to eat and as I'm eating look at practice, look at what the play was, how we ran it, how Kap (Colin Kaepernick) ran it vs. how the second-team ran it when I was in there.

"I can just compare and learn. And then, I take it back to the hotel. I can do that at night. It's pretty efficient."

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That kind of singular focus is important for Harbaugh. After all, he's a man who has a collection of identical black fleeces and khaki pants so he never has to waste precious time or brain energy deciding what to wear every day.

"It cuts drag, sure," Harbaugh said of the iPads. "It gives the opportunity to -- if they find some time off and they just want to chill -- get the iPad out and start watching some football video. It's really good. It really creates an around-the-clock ability to be in football.

"Now I could see that was happiness. I could see how happy that would be to be able to watch football all the time. We do a lot of practicing, a lot of meetings. But this gives the more opportunity for football."

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Harbaugh sees the iPad as the solution for the doldrums that usually set in during training camp when the players return nightly to the nearby team hotel.

Said Harbaugh: "Sometimes guys complain about, 'What do I do with my down time? I have nothing to do. I'm just sitting here staring at the four walls. Where do I go? What do I do?' Get out the iPad and start watching video. That's how I chill now. Sit on the couch and watch the iPad."