|Tackling - Keeping the Head Out of the Game|
|By: Anthony Petruzzi
Originally Published in: Nike 2016 Coach of the Year Clinic Notes - by Earl Browning
Provided by: Nike Coach of the Year
First you must talk about player safety. That falls on the responsibility of the coach. Player Safety, above all else, must be the top priority of a coach. The goal must be made clear, without a reasonable doubt, to all parties involved, with a structured formalized plan in regards to:
LOCKER ROOM - PLAYING FIELD
When players come under our supervision and are in our hands, we must make sure they are safe. It is more than how we are treating them on the field. It extends to the locker room as well. Supervision needs to be addressed not only with the team but coaches as well. You must have a plan of how things will be addressed in the locker room as well as on the field.
When we talk specifically about tackling we have a systematic approach.
Player Safety should be considered:
• When developing a tackling philosophy
• When creating a tackling structure
• When implementing tackling drills
• When speaking exact tackling commands
These ideas must be addressed individually and separately. But they must be done so the player's safety is first and foremost in your tackling system and the philosophy you use.
Belief in tackling
Tackling is what defense is all about and there is no substitute for being a great tackler. Get after the opponent and out hit them on every snap!
• Do Not Hit with Your Head!!!
• No Chopping - Stay On Your Feet!!!
This is the only time we mention the word head when we are talking about tackling. The problems with tackling is the confidence of the players and part of that was not keeping their feet on the ground. When a player dives at the feet of a ball carrier, we call that chopping. That is something you cannot practice and do not want to practice on your own players.
In order to be an excellent tackling defensive unit, it is necessary to practice tackling frequently. Tackling is an aggressive, attacking action that incorporates the fundamentals of the Approach, Collision, and Finish.
We want to be an excellent tackling unit. To do that we must practice tackling frequently. When we are doing these aggressive attacking actions, we want to make sure the proper body angles of the players are stressed.
• Attack the ball carrier where he is. Run at him full speed without breaking down!
• Keep eyes on the back hip of the ball carrier
• As you approach, keep your hips down, your knees bent, and your chest up
Breaking down on the ball carrier gets the tackler into a bad position. The tackler starts stomping his feet and he is not closing the distance to the ball carrier any more. The tackler wants to take away two dimensions as he approaches the ball carrier. He was to take away both horizontal and vertical dimensions. You do not want to give the ball carrier a two-way-go. We do not want the ball carrier to stop the tackler to create a two-way-go.
• As you come to the point of collision, buzz your feet and accelerate through the ball carrier on the same angle you made your approach
• Work hard to get your near foot on the ball carrier's midline through the buzz
We want to buzz the feet. This may be considered a breaking down of sorts. We are going to continue to close on the ball carrier and close the space between us. Buzzing the feet lets the tackler time the force with which he strikes the ball carrier. He accelerates through the ball carrier at the same angle used in the approach.
• Time the collision with the impact of the shoulder and explode your hips through the ball carrier
• Punch arms up and high point the ball carrier
• Get eyes up to the sky and find your hands
When we talk about high pointing the ball carrier, we make reference to receivers catching the ball at the highest point, or offensive linemen finishing off their blocks by getting their hands above their eyes. It is the same thing in tackling.
We believe the tackler finding the hands and eyes up to the sky is going to be paramount to keeping the head out of the collision.
• Grab / squeeze with arms to eliminate space
• Continue to drive knees and run your feet
• The second defender in should first push the pile and then try to knock the ball loose
That is our tackling philosophy. The approach, collision, and finish is going to make up the concepts we use in our structure.
Reinforce the concepts of Philosophy with a solid structure:
• Drill Selection and Development
• Teaching Progression
• Verbal Cues
• Practice Implementation
The structure is going to select and develop the drills we are going to use. We have to know which drills we are going to begin with and how we are going to start them. We need to organize our verbal cues. We do not want anyone on our coaching staff saying something different. We all are saying the same things. We want to try to cut down on the number of cues we use. Not only in the tackling drill but throughout your entire practice. Those things have carryover value.
Actual practice time must be decided upon in reference to tackling. How long can you go in a tackling drill and what is safe? I want to talk about some of the drills and terminology that we use to practice those ideas we just talked about.
Approach - "Aim Small, Miss Small"
Close The Distance
• Pursuit to the football
° Come to balance, Get It, Buzz
° Training the Eyes
• Shakira - "The Hips Don't Lie"
° Eyes on the Alba Hip
° Follow it into the catcher's glove
The drills we use are not only for varsity, JV, and freshmen football, but it goes down as far as 8-9 year old kids. They can see themselves do these drills and practice. They will see themselves continue to improve at each level.
The first thing in the approach is to "aim small and miss small." That is getting the eyes in the right spot. They want to concentrate on some small part of the body. That keeps the tackler from being concerned about head fakes or some other movement. We want to concentrate on that one spot as we do all the things that are covered in the approach.
As we drill we start to see our players look at that hip all the way through even though we are not making contact with the ball carrier. That translates and I think those players understand those coaching points. You can use these drills indoors as well as outside. We do them in a practice gym. Your players can work on their own or you can get a senior member of your team to run it for you.
In this drill, the players are 10 yards apart. (Diagram #1) The drill starts with the offensive players running in a direction at an angle of 45-60 degrees. The defensive player runs to cut off the offensive player. He keeps his eyes on the hip, comes to balance, and runs through the tackle. There is no contact as the defensive player runs behind the ball carrier.
He takes his balance step, buzzes the feet through, with low pad level. The tackler wants to get on the ball carrier side of the ball as quickly as he can. They also work on getting the near foot to the midline of the ball carrier. The defender should be close enough to touch the ball carrier on the front and rear thighs. I do not want him to reach out. That puts him in an off balanced position. Make the players start in good stances.
The players start to play the drill and not use their eyes. You must demand that they look at the hip. It happens in games. They look at everything but the hip. The next thing we do after the 10-yard drill is a five-yard drill.
The Drills and Terminology
Approach: "Aim Small, Miss Small"
• Split The Crotch
° Pursuit to the Football
° Training the Eyes
° Preparing for Contact
• Get it, Buzz, Come to Balance
• Foot between the crotch, Eyes on the Hip, Increase Surface Area
We call this drill -split the crotch." It is exactly the same drill from a shorter distance. The emphasis in the drill is to split the crotch with the near foot. This is the drill right before the collision drill. We want the offensive player to come to a stop in mid run. That way you can see the position of the near foot splitting the crotch. Since this is a dummy drill, we want the defenders to exaggerate their movements. We want them to bend and get low in their approach.
All the terminology in the instruction is how we correct the tackler. If he has the wrong foot up, we tell him near foot. If a tackler has his eyes down, his shoulder leaning forward and his shoulders are rounded, we are going to ask him to puff up his chest, bow his neck. and get his eyes up. That brings him into position to increase the surface that he will impact when he makes the collision.
In the drill we want to get the foot in the crotch and be inside/out on the ball carrier. We do not want to get too far in front because that gives the ball carrier a two-way-go. This is almost a running fit drill. We are trying to get into position before the collision. In this drill we do not talk about getting the head across the bow. We are just as concerned with neck injuries as we are about concussion.
People want to talk about concussions but before that there were the stingers and burners, which came from the head going across the body.
Collision - "Punch"
Cross The Goal Line
• Preparing for Contact
• Initiating Collision
° Buzz, Punch, Get Tall
° Come to balance, foot between the crotch, punch the hip, high point your hands, stand him up
When you do these drills you will hear the coach's say, "punch." It is not simply with the arms. It also requires you to use the hips. This prepares us for contact. This if the first drill where we are going to make contact. The term get tall refers to standing up the ball carrier. When we talk about punching the hip and high pointing the hands, they come in the same movement.
Punching, high pointing the hands, and getting tall is what we teach in offensive run blocking. When we have the crossover skills, we make a point of emphasizing it. When the player is coached on the same thing multiple times it helps.
All these terms fit back into our weight program. We are a big power lift team. It takes months to work into a position to power clean. However, that approach helps you with the tackle. We work this drill in very close quarters. The offensive player has the hand shield. The defender comes into the collision and does his technique as explained. He wants to buzz the feet. punch with the hips and arms, and stand tall.
Finish - "Fight Begins on Contact"
• Pursuit to the Football
• Training the Eyes
• Preparing for Contact
• Initiating Collision
° Punch, Get Tall, Eyes to the Sky, Take 1000 steps
We went through the approach, collision, and now the finish. In the finish, we have made the collision and we must get the ball carrier on the ground. When we get tall, hopefully that gets the ball carrier up high and maybe off the ground. The finish is the 1000 steps. We want to run the feet after the collision.
In this particular drill, you will hear punch, get tall, eyes to the sky, and run the feet. The eyes to the sky, puts our hips under the ball carrier hips, and creates leverage to drive the ball carrier up. That allows us to run our feet and finish the tackle.
We want our hips under his hip, our belly under his belly, our arms under his arms, squeezing, and getting tall.
When we drill this we put the players at five yards apart and put together all the drills. We approach, collision, and finish. The offensive player carries a hand shield so no one gets hurt. This is not a full speed tackling drill. It is to practice the fundamentals of an angle tackle.
• Whether Bought, Borrowed, or Born, all drills will incorporate the same fundamentals and terminology.
• We will practice tackling every day!
• Fundamentals and terminology will continue through all periods of practice
It does not matter where the drill came from, you still must incorporate the same terminology and fundamentals. The drill has to fit your philosophy. You cannot go to a football clinic, watch a drill, and say we are going to do that drill.
You take the drill, then modify it, restructure it, and see how it fits into what you are teaching as far as tackling goes. The tackling drills need to be something you do every day. That does not mean you have live contact tackling every day. It means you work on the fundamentals of tackling every day.
The drills I just talked about are not contact drills for the most part. Three of the drills involved no contact at all. They are very quick and you can get many repetitions.
When we practice tackling, we separate into three groups. We call them mustangs, trucks, and SUV's. The mustangs are defensive backs and wide receivers. The SUV's are the running backs and linebackers and the trucks are the offensive and defensive line. We separate them so you have size similarity. After you teach the drills, we can do all three of those drills in five minutes with a ton of repetitions.
When we do our tackling circuits it is important that all terminology, fundamentals, and cues are the same at each station. If we are in a skeleton period, the same terminology must be used.
In our seven-on-seven drill you see the same drills we did in the gym. You see their eyes go to the hip as they close distance and all the fundamentals that we taught. The technique is there but the collision does not occur. In every phase of our practice you will hear the same thing.
• Sandwich Tackling
° 2-on-1 open field
• Triangle Drill
° 1-on-1 open field
• Box Drill
The sandwich tackling is two-on-one tackling in the open field. We have a force defender attacking with outside leverage on the outside hip and an alley defender attacking with inside leverage on the inside hip. They do not have to worry about one another because their targets are different.
They go through the near foot to crotch and all the fundamentals. We ask the tackler not to be selfish. If one of the tackler's gets to the middle of the ball carrier, you now have a solo tackle instead of a sandwich tackle. When a player is selfish on the football, we are talking about them not being where they are supposed to be.
The triangle drill is for the mustangs group. We set up cones in the shape of a triangle. The tackler knows the cones are out of bounds for the ball carrier. The running back takes a hand-off and starts at the vertex of the triangle. The defender wants to close the distance sooner rather than later. The faster he gets to the ball carrier, the less room the ball carrier has to make a move.
This is a competition drill with the offense versus the defense. The offense wants to get the first four yards before he tries to make a move.
The box drill is a two-on-three drill. It is the old Oklahoma drill. In this drill we want to see some piles driven. You will have multiple tacklers, but the fundamentals do not change. We coach the fundamental in every one of these drills.
I put these slides on here because of what is happening in football today. The concussion issue has become the single issue about football. I am not a proponent of Rugby tackling at the high school level. That is the point I want to make. Everything in football trickles down from the top.
Not everything we do in high school should be the same that happens in college or pro football. The athletes are so much different and the game is different also. We did look into the success that Pete Carroll has had with developing the hawk tackle. I looked into it and tried to play the devil's advocate and find some studies on the subject. What I am showing you is one of the studies I looked at. It makes you think that you should never take everything on face value.
What Coach Carroll has done at Seattle is great. They have a progression and they believe in it. You see it in some really successful college programs as well. We are not going to practice those drills at our level. We do not have the time to do them. We do not think those drills particularly fit into what we are talking about.
If you watch films of hawk tackling. you see that heads are down and necks are vulnerable. Those are the things we are trying to stay out of. However, many of the things in the rugby tackle is what we are teaching. What we do needs to translate is that we cannot practice all those techniques.
My advice to you is make sure you do the research and look at the studies of rugby tackling. Make sure you can keep players out of the bad positions they sometimes find themselves in.
At the high school level, we are not coaching the same type of athletes with the same kind of body control or strength. The strength they have in the neck can save them from having significant injury.
There are all kinds of rugby links on the internet. where you can find all kinds of information. When you see what they teach and watch what they do. it is somewhat different. However. if you watch our game tape, we are not tackling every time the way we are teaching it. But we are practicing and correcting all the time. Hopefully we will get to a place where we can have much success on the football field and at the same time be safe doing it.
We treat the concussion issue and the safety of the neck as very important. It is not just defense. We teach that part of it on both sides of the ball. It is important for us on defense to do the right things with regards to the head. We teach the running back as a ball carrier not to put his head down and strike with the crown of the helmet when he is running the ball.
Safety on the football field is just as much an offensive responsibility as it is a defensive responsibility. We try to coach that up every day with our players. Concussions are happening on both sides of the ball. Thank you guys. I appreciate you listening.