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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

 

Having amassed over 1,181 tackles during his 10-year NFL career, Chris Spielman knows a little something about bringing ball carriers to the ground. Now as an NFL analyst for Fox sports, the former All-Pro middle linebacker sees first hand why elite athletes miss tackles. And while he has his own opinion on how he would teach tackling, he reflected on how tackling has evolved from the more conventional methods to emerge with a newer rugby style emphasis. Spielman is as “old school” as it gets (he played part of his career through chronic neck pain), which is why we wanted his perspective on the newer methods of rugby style tackling, all of which were detailed in our study of “Developing a Tackling System.” So we pinpointed what we felt can be six contentious talking points of our study and asked his opinion on them.



By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar

 

Introduction

Having amassed over 1,181 tackles during his 10-year NFL career, Chris Spielman knows a little something about bringing ball carriers to the ground. Now as an NFL analyst for Fox sports, the former All-Pro middle linebacker sees first hand why elite athletes miss tackles. And while he has his own opinion on how he would teach tackling, he reflected on how tackling has evolved from the more conventional methods to emerge with a newer rugby style emphasis. Spielman is as “old school” as it gets (he played part of his career through chronic neck pain), which is why we wanted his perspective on the newer methods of rugby style tackling, all of which were detailed in our study of “Developing a Tackling System.” So we pinpointed what we felt can be six contentious talking points of our study and asked his opinion on them.

On why coaches need to adapt their teaching methods to meet newer rule changes in the game…

“If you don’t adapt you won’t play. Chuck Cecil (safety for the Arizona Cardinals known for physical play) couldn’t play right now. Kurt Schulz (former safety for the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills) couldn’t play because they would lead with their heads. They would be fined out of the league or if they were in college they would be called for targeting.”

On how the rugby style emphasis trains the arms…

“If rugby tackling has done anything it has brought players back to the fundamental methods of (tacklers) wrapping up and brining their arms as opposed to running into guys full speed. Backs are too good for that now. I also believe in wrapping up because that’s where turnovers are created.”

On teaching the lower contact point, synonymous with rugby style tackling…

“I get the concept about keeping the head out of the game. I would sit here and argue with anybody about this: when you talk about hitting ball carriers at the hip or below (as they do in rugby tackling methods), you tend to lower your body to strike and the natural progression is for the head and eyes to go down. Your head may now be at a more vulnerable position. They (rugby style coaches) can say your eyes are up but when you watch it on film you can see if they are tackling at the hip their head or eyes can be down. The head and neck are in a vulnerable position on the football field. Every film I’ve watched, their heads and eyes are down.”

On the rugby style emphasis of targeting the near hip (and not far hip) and keeping the head backside (and not across) the ball carrier on and inside out tackle…

“The only difference in rugby tackling as far as I’m concerned is talking about targeting the near hip of ball carrier and not the far hip. I’ve always tried to get my head in front of the man and not behind the man because when my head is in front physiologically it makes sense because I’m using all my body strength. If I’m behind the man I’m only using half my body and the changes of guys breaking tackles or falling forward for a first down or touch down increases. In rugby you get five downs, not four so you can allow some leeway there. In football you can’t do that.

The bottom line is I think it’s all based on the defensive player. When I was playing Barry Sanders, the last thing I would do is stop my feet. He would put me on his highlight film. You take your shot when you have it. I believe in an inside out angle, but once you arrive there, that head needs to be across his body. I know the chances of him cutting back are 15 percent tops so I’ll take my chances of putting my head across his body. That’s what worked for me. I’m focused as much on the hip but getting there in a hurry and getting my body in front of his body. So he either goes backward or sideward and not forward. That’s a simple but effective rule. If you’re caught targeting on the backside hip then here comes a 6-4, 220 pound receiver cracking your ass, then what are you going to do? You don’t see him coming, because you don’t see the field. You’re focused on the hip. If I had a coach telling me that I’d say, hey man you’re turning me into a robot. I’m going to run through him (the ball carrier).  

On the rugby emphasis of using a roll tackle wrap rather than conventional methods of running feet through tackle…

“In open field tackle situations, I was always taught ‘one step and wrap, two steps and squeeze and bring your feet though the target and not to the target.’  The problem I have is when defenders go to their knees on contact that’s not football. We want to run through contact. I get it. You have to lunge to make tackles at times. But if you have a clear shot (at a ball carrier), I would coach to run through the target and never drop to your knees. The guy is either going to run through you or always fall forward as opposed to the defender closing that gate in front of the ball and running through the target. I love the squeezing part, especially with a smaller corner on a bigger back but I don't like the roll part of it. Nobody teaches running backs to stop their feet on contact, it’s the same situation with linebackers.”

On keeping teaching tackling simple…

“After all these years, here’s how I classify making tackles: eyes up, head up, wrap up and you will have no problem. That’s what officials have told me to tackle safely. As long as the head stays up it’s tough to get targeting calls or fines with the crown. I do think you can combine both old school and rugby school and come up with a safe way to protect the player and protect the position of the head.”

Conclusion

To read our study on how coaches changing how they teach tackling and devising their own tackling system to address the four most common errors in missed tackles, click here (insert sales page). 

 

The Solution to Missed Tackles

Regardless of what level you coach, or what offense you're defending,
we all face the same issues in missed tackles

"Providing your players with a tackling system gives them a plan to fix their errors, which completely changes their confidence level."

- Chris Ash, Head Coach, Rutgers

 

You've developed systems for your offense, defense and special teams, but do you have a system for tackling?

Back in 2011, Southern Illinois University linebacker coach Eric Schmidt knew he needed to make a change. The Salukis, a respectable FCS program, had surrendered 126 yards per game on the ground and 27 points per game. He felt that same feeling of frustration creep in that we all do at times as defensive coordinators: he loved his unit, but knew that they weren't a very good defense. "We were just a poor tackling team," he told us. "We had to get back to training their arms and their lower half." 

That season became the impetus for Coach Schmidt and his staff to examine the entire premise of how they were teaching tackling. "We worked very hard to improve our situations," he said. "We examined everything. We went back and tried to pinpoint the main components as to why we were missing these tackles. We started by saying 'okay, is it a profile tackle or is it not a profile tackle? Can the ball carrier see us coming or can't he?' Then we broke it up into the six different fundamentals or types of tackles that we would teach our guys and educate them on when is a good time to use these types of tackles." 

So at that point, Coach Schmidt devised his tackling system, which is comprised of a series of drills that pinpoint certain issues his unit was having in tackling. Fast forward five years later now as the defensive coordinator at North Dakota, where the Fighting Hawks finished 6th in FCS in total defense, Coach Schmidt has honed his tackling system to fit both the schemes and situations that his unit will encounter on a weekly basis. And he's doing it using a circuit-based system centered on four specific components that he details in our brand-new special report... 

 

Devising and Implementing a Tackling System

I'll show you how to get access to this special report in just a minute, but first we need to answer one critical question... "Why is it important to develop a system for tackling, just like you would use on offense, defense or special teams?" Because a system fosters a plan and a plan breeds confidence in your players. Most importantly, it provides answers when things go wrong. Because let's face it: regardless of what level you coach, or what offense you're defending, we all face the same issues in missed tackles. Our research dictated the following four most common issues in missed tackles:

  • Improper body placement in open field tackling situations
  • Losing one-on-one leverage (or tracking) points on the ball carrier
  • Losing multiple defender leverage points on the ball carrier, or what is commonly referred to as "keeping the cup"
  • Lunge tackling or leaving feet in strike phase

The idea is to develop your tackling system to combat those issues. Regardless if you are a rugby style tackling unit or not, in our special report on "Devising and Implementing a Tackling System," we researched the systems of nine collegiate programs. We include the rugby-tackling group that worked with the Seahawks to study how they were teaching tackling. We wanted to know how they track missed tackles. What fundamental mistakes do they work tirelessly in addressing? What situational tackling do they spend time on? What common buzzwords do they use to train their players on the proper contact points? How much time do they spend both in camp and in season to teach tackling? 

This brand-new special report provides you with a framework of a system that helps create and develop the drill work, which reinforces the proper tackling techniques and helps your defenders fix the most common errors in tackling. 

In this report, we highlight the four main issues and provide the corrective measures our contributors are using to fix them. What's interesting is that many of these same coaches (regardless of whether they are using rugby style or not) are addressing these very issues with limited contact. Recent studies have shown that limiting or eliminating contact practices would result in an 18-40% decrease in head impacts or concussions during the course of a season. Research has shown that footwork is the most under coached aspect of tackling, which is why 87 percent of the drills in this special report can be done without pads. 

As Mike Siravo, the linebackers coach at Temple told us he'll even take his players helmets off in practice to keep their heads and eyes up. So instead of rolling out dozens of tacking drills that you can find anywhere, our intent with this study is to help provide you with a plan or system on how you will address your tackling issues this fall. 

The programs that contributed to this report include: 

FBS Level:

  • Temple University, Mike Siravo (Linebackers Coach)
  • Rutgers University, Jay Niemann (Defensive Coordinator)

FCS Level: 

  • North Dakota University, Eric Schmidt (Defensive Coordinator)
  • North Dakota State University, Matt Entz (Defensive Coordinator)
  • Wagner University, Vincent DiGaetano (Defensive Analyst)

Division II Level:

  • Lindenwood University (MO), Jamie Marshall (Defensive Line Coach)
  • Northern State University (SD), Matt McLagan (Defensive Coordinator)

Division III Level:

  • Mount Union University, Chris Kappas (Defensive Coordinator)

NAIA Level:

  • University of St. Francis, Joey Didier (Co-Defensive Coordinator)

 

This entire special report is presented in six individual cases and with one bonus case. Please note, this study includes detailed video illustrating the drills and coaching points presented. 

Here's a quick look at what you'll find in each of these cases...

 

Case 1: Developing Your Tackling System 

In this case, we research the tackling systems of all these programs and perhaps more importantly why they decided to implement them. We go into depth on how they developed their systems. Some of the research uncovered in this case includes:

  • How these programs classify and track missed tackles when they review film.
  • How they are broken down into the various types of missed tackles either based on situation or fundamental.
  • How this information is shared with players and coaches.
  • How programs are developing a "Scenario-Based Plan" for solving their tackling issues, which can be classified as cutback tackles, head in the hole tackles, open field tackles, sideline tackles, outside-in tackles, etc.
  • How programs are developing a "Fundamental-Based Plan" for solving their tackling issues, which can be classified as leverage, tracking, eyes, feet and hands.
  • How much time is delegated to practicing tackling both in fall camp and in-season.
  • The training methods and circuit work these coaches are using to develop their tackling system.
  • How much non-contact tackling progressions these coaches are using in fall camp and during the season.

 

Case 2: Reinforcing Proper Body Placement in Open Field Tackling 

Defenders will often come in too high or even too low on the ball carrier. This fundamental cannot be taught just by telling players to "break down." Tackling in the open field starts with the right approach. We found that coaches are using perpetual drill work to teach the body placement to be in the right position on the approach to making the tackle. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:

  • Temple University's 10-yard Drill
  • Temple University's Step and Replace Drill
  • Temple University's Stem Drill
  • Temple University's Come to Balance Drill
  • North Dakota University's Shimmy Tackle Drill
  • Lindenwood University's Long Stride/Short Stride Drill
  • Rutgers University One on One Leverage Drill
  • Lindenwood University's Footwork with Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Come to Balance Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Come to Balance Angle Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Strike Zone Tackle Drill

 

Case 3: Reinforcing Tracking Issues in One-on-One Tackling Situations 

Commonly referred to as "tracking" the ball carrier, defenders must be taught to use the proper leverage points when approaching a ball carrier to make a tackle. Leverage can pertain to both the area of the field (sideline, force or cutback) and it can also pertain to the leverage the defender has on the ball carrier (inside out, head up or outside in). 

In this case, we present how coaches are teaching leverage as it relates to both of those elements and the corrective drills they use to enforce it. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:

  • Lindenwood University Sideline Leverage Drill
  • Lindenwood University Inside Out Tracking Drill
  • Lindenwood University Quick Crawl Leverage Drill
  • Rutgers University Sideline Tracking Drill
  • Rutgers University Sideline Tackling Drill
  • Rutgers University Partner Tracking Drill
  • Rutgers University 10-yard Inside Out Tracking Drill
  • Rutgers University 5-Yard Inside Out Tracking Drill
  • Wagner College Open Field Balance and Tracking Drill
  • Wagner College Near Foot Cutback Drill
  • Mount Union University One on One Tracking Drill
  • Mount Union University Outside In Tracking Drill
  • Mount Union University Inside Out Tracking Drill
  • Northern State University Outside In Tracking Drill
  • Northern State University Close the Grass Drill
  • University of St. Francis Angle Run Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Roll Tackle Drill
  • Temple University Angle Tackle Drill
  • North Dakota Leverage Tracking Drill
  • North Dakota University Knife Tackle Drill
  • North Dakota University Roll Tackle Drill
  • North Dakota University Competitive Tackle Progression

 

Case 4: Reinforcing Multiple Defender Leverage Points on Ball Carrier 

Most commonly referred to as "losing the cup", losing multiple defender leverage points on a ball carrier are another common issue in tackling. What should usually result in an immediate tackling situation can turn into a substantial gain if one or more of those defenders lose leverage. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:

  • Mount Union University Leverage Pursuit Drill
  • Mount Union University Compression Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Two-Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Three Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
  • Northern State University Two on One Close the Grass Drill
  • Northern State University Three Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
  • Lindenwood University Dive Bomb Tackle Drill
  • Wagner College Three Level Tackle Drill

 

Case 5: Reinforcing Proper Strike Points on Contact 

Once the approach is mastered and the proper leverage is attained, the defender needs to "finish" on the ball carrier by bringing him down to the ground. How coaches implement this fundamental in their system varies. Some use mats, some use agile bags and some use bodies. Below are the specific drills that teach this phase of tackling. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:

  • Temple University Recoil Drill
  • Temple University Three-Yard Tackle Drill
  • Lindenwood University One-Knee Strike Drill
  • Rutgers University Near Foot Tackle Drill
  • Rutgers University Roll Tackle Drill
  • Rutgers University Inside Out Mat Tackle Drill
  • University of St. Francis Wrap and Squeeze Drill
  • University of St. Francis Mat Tackle Drill
  • Northern State University Shoot, Wrap and Squeeze Drill
  • Northern State University Clamp Tackle on Mat Drill
  • Northern State University Flow Finish Drill
  • Northern State University Swipe Finish Drill
  • Wagner College PVC Shoot Hips Drill
  • Wagner College Restricted Arms/Strain Tackle Drill
  • Mount Union Mat Tackle Drill
  • North Dakota Mat Tackle Drill
  • North Dakota University Swipe Tackle Drill

 

Case 6: Implementing the Rugby Style Tackling System 

Back in 2014 the Seattle Seahawk Rugby tackling video went viral sending hundreds of coaches to reconsider how they were teaching tackling. Now two years later, Atavus, the Seattle based company that was behind that Seahawk drill tape, has put together a system on how you can design and implement the rugby tackling system in your program. In this case, we detail how they are developing their system to suit the needs of football coaches for this coming season as they transition rugby style tackling into the football field this fall. Some of the research we present in this case includes:

  • Why Atavus breaks down its rugby tackling progression into two phases.
  • The three components that make up how Atavus teaches the "pre-contact phase" of tackling, including video of the drill work Washington University used this spring to implement them.
  • The three components that make up how Atavus teaches the "post contact phase" of tackling, including video of the drill work Washington University used this spring to implement them.
  • The five categories of drill work that Atavus uses when designing its tackling system including video of these drills.

 

Bonus Case: The Buzzword Catalog of Tackling 

Football is a game of short bursts and shorter words, so in this case we wanted to provide coaches with the specific verbiage our contributors are using to teach tackling. While some of these words may be familiar, there are different ways to say the same thing to your players and a coach never knows which words will stick. In this case, we asked our contributors which buzzwords they use when teaching tackling.

This entire special report, including all 6 cases (with bonus case) and drill video is available right now on our Insiders membership website. 

 

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