Thursday, July 14, 2011

Always Searching for New Tackling Drills....

           As a defensive coordinator for the last 12 years, one of the things that I have consistently revisited each off-season is a way to improve tackling. I remember that an issue of American Football Coach a few years ago had an article about the lost art of tackling. I don't know if I would call it an art but it does seem as though tackling as a whole has gotten poorer on all levels. I don't necessarily believe that this is because defensive coaches have started to blow off fundamentals as much as it has to do with the changes in offensive football and strength & conditioning.
       Offensive football, whether it be Mike Leach Air Raid or Urban Meyer Spread Option or even Paul Johnson Double Wing, has become a game where the best coaches seek to create more one on one match-ups out in space. This requires the defensive players to make more one on one open-field tackles than before. In addition, athletes are becoming stronger & faster at the lower levels of football than they have ever been before. The problem in drilling tackling is that so many of the traditional tackling drills are not necessarily directed at making a player a better open-field tackler. The old Door Drill and the Eye-Opener certainly still have their place, but do they really help a player get ready to tackle Percy Harvin on the bubble screen?
         Now I am a firm believer that Relentless Pursuit is the best tackling method. If 5 lousy tacklers in a bad mood all get to the ball carrier at once, he is probably still going down. That being said, I am always on the lookout for tackling drills that that can improve our ability to tackle in space. I also search for drills that can be done year round, with or without pads and a football. There are two that we have done extensively this summer, one we have had for a while and one that we just started; we are very pleased with both.
      We call the first drill  the Tackle Box Drill. I got it from Tyrone Nix, DC at Ole Miss and previously South Carolina. There are 2 lines, each at opposite corners of a 5 x 5 yd box. One line is made up of the tacklers and one line is made up of the bagmen, or the players holding half-round dummies. At my command, the tackler sprints full speed 5 yds laterally across the box, sticks his foot into the ground outside the box (Diagram #1),  then redirects back into the box and gets square. (Diagram #2) When the tackler sticks his foot in the ground outside the box, the bag man begins to shuffle laterally across the box. (also Diagram #2). When the bag man reaches the middlie of the box, he comes straight downhill hard & fast, holding the half-round pad tight to his chest. At the same time, the tackler has squared himself up and executes an "eyes up, chest up" form tackle on the bagman (Diagram #3). Neither player goes to the ground, but I am looking for a chest to chest collision of some significance. After the hit, the players switch lines. After everyone has tackled the lines move across the box and execute the same drill going the other way. Reasons I like this drill:
  • It incorporates full speed movement with a sharp change of direction
  • All players, regardless of athleticism, can get into position to execute a perfect form chest to chest hit
  • The drill can be done inside or outside, in pads or shorts, all year round
  • This drill does not ask the bagman to be a docile target; for the drill to be effective, he must come hard also, just not wrapping up.
  • The second drill, which we have just started to use this summer, is called the Circle Flag Drill. I got this from a FL high school coach in the new COY manual. We take two PE flag football flags (just the flags, not the belt) and have a runner quickly tuck them into his pants. We create a circle with ropes or paint or hoops and we align the tackler on one side of the circle and the flagman on the other side. At the whistle, the tackler must try to take both flags from the runner. The runner cannot use his hands and he cannot leave the circle, but otherwise he may run & jump & spin as much as he wants. Reasons that I like this drill:                                                                                 
  • It forces the tackler to come to balance and not overextend
  • It forces the tackler to keep leverage under the runner so he can grab the flags
  • It can be done full speed, inside or outside, in pads or shorts, all year round     

We are always looking for ways to become better tacklers. The traditional drills still are very effective & have their place. But we need to think outside the box also. Because if WRs & RBs are working on getting faster, quicker, and more agile year round, and Offensive Coordinators are practicing schemes to get them in one on one matchups year round, but we only start practicing tackling in August, then we are going to have a problem.                   

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