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


Once these issues are identified a decision has to be made on how much time needs to be devoted in-season in correcting these issues. Coaches are asked to balance the necessary time constraints made at every level of football with the priority that proper tackling warrants. We asked our contributors "What is your training method in teaching tackling?" Here are their responses...

 



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

 

Introduction

The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Designing Tackling Systems.”

Practice Time in Tackling 

Once these issues are identified a decision has to be made on how much time needs to be devoted in-season in correcting these issues. Coaches are asked to balance the necessary time constraints made at every level of football with the priority that proper tackling warrants. We asked our contributors the following question:

What is your training method in teaching tackling? Do you do more of Circuit training? Grid training? Done on position groupings only? How much is done in-season?”

 

Contributor Key (in Alphabetical Order):

Joey Didier (JD): Defensive Coordinator, University of St. Francis (IN)

Vincent DiGaetano (VD): Defensive Analyst, Wagner University (NY)

Matt Entz (ME): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota State University

Chris Kappas (CK): Defensive Coordinator, Mount Union University (OH)

Jamie Marshall (JM): Defensive Line Coach, Lindenwood University (MO)

Matt McLagan (MM): Defensive Coordinator, Northern State University (SD)

Jay Niemann (JN): Defensive Coordinator, Rutgers University

Mike Siravo (MS): Defensive Coordinator, Temple University

Eric Schmidt (ES): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota University

 

Editor’s Note: All of the drill work mentioned below will be detailed with drill video in the later cases of this report.

JD: “We train our tackling in every practice through circuit training. One of our three coaches is the ‘expert’ on our staff in regards to one of our three tackling phases: track the near hip, shoulders roll through thighs, run or roll. That coach leads a drill in a ten-minute circuit daily either in full or no pads. We keep our players in their position groups as they rotate through the tackle circuit. In season, we spend about thirty minutes a week on defense with a ten-minute circuit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We also spend 10-15 minutes a week on special teams tackling.”

VD: “We have a combination of training methods between circuit and position. We have developed within our circuit more position specific drills based on angles and frequency of types of tackles our position players are making. We also work on them playing off of blocks. In season, less time is spent on the circuit training and more time is spent working on tackling in individual drills. Realistically, a 5-10 minute segment is used each practice day with a tackling focus.”

ME: “We do a lot of circuit stuff early in spring and in camp. We make up a circuit that is a carry over for all groups, but then as we progress into fall camp we will do more position specific. It’s hard to mimic defensive line tackling. There are a lot of one-arm tackles going on up front. A defensive lineman only does those things with half his body. What we do three weeks before the national championship game, we will go back and treat it like fall camp. We go back to day one stuff where we are going circuit stuff again. If we are not going to have a circuit, we will try to find a way to get a tackling finisher in INDI for your first five minutes. For circuits, we will do a five-minute circuit in-season for five minutes total because we use 24 periods and exactly two hours full pads. We are always in a thud mode when we practice. We are getting ample tackling examples in practice. Emphasis is not taking him to the ground. Tackle high, keep eyes up and let go once we feel the thud. We let backs and receivers finish.”

CK: “It’s all circuits, but in some of the stuff we will do individual instruction. We don’t say we’ll work ten minutes of tackling, but each coach will find a way to work it in his drills at least once a week. We will do a circuit or drill every single day.” 

JM: “We will use one or two days during the season at five minutes per day. They are position specific and where we are going to be in space making tackles. If they are a 22 personnel team, then we need to work more in the phone booth or will be spread out in space. It’s specific to game planning that week.”

MM: “Our tackling teaching is primarily done in circuit training and defensive group drills. The process starts with multiple days of circuit progression and leads to defensive group drills. At that point, we will recycle the drills for repetition or evolution. Position groups will also integrate position specific tackling within their individual time. We will not reach this point until we feel we have a sufficient foundation to our tackling system. Our tackling system progression will take us through five practices (progression: static drills, on-feet drills, on-feet tracking drills, finish drills, full defensive group drill). At this point, we will recycle drills for repetition or evolution. Position groups will integrate position specific tackling within their individual time. After our initial progression, we will practice a tackling area of need/choice in approximately two-thirds of a week’s practice.”

JN: “Our individual drills are centered on the problems we’ve had in the previous day’s practice sessions. Defensive linemen may not need the same work as defensive backs do such as open field progressions. It’s a combination of circuit and individual tackling. We would like ten minutes of the circuit in fall camp and then five minutes of the circuit on a typical Tuesday or Wednesday.”

Coordinating Non-Contact Tackling Periods 

There is a continual emphasis on keeping players healthy during the season, so we thought it important to ask these coaches how much time is devoted specifically to non-contact tackling drills during the grind of the season.

How much tackling is done in your program without pads? If so, what drills are used in doing to train the eyes of your players?

Contributor Key (in Alphabetical Order):

Joey Didier (JD): Defensive Coordinator, University of St. Francis (IN)

Vincent DiGaetano (VD): Defensive Analyst, Wagner University (NY)

Matt Entz (ME): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota State University

Chris Kappas (CK): Defensive Coordinator, Mount Union University (OH)

Jamie Marshall (JM): Defensive Line Coach, Lindenwood University (MO)

Matt McLagan (MM): Defensive Coordinator, Northern State University (SD)

Jay Niemann (JN): Defensive Coordinator, Rutgers University

Mike Siravo (MS): Defensive Coordinator, Temple University

Eric Schmidt (ES): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota University

 

Editor’s Note: All of the drill work mentioned below will be detailed with drill video in the later cases of this report.

JD: “75 percent of our tackling is done without pads. We have a drill menu of about 10-15 drills as they pertain to our three hot points tackling.”

VD: “A majority of the tackling is done with limited resistance (in pads or not) to focus on each segmented fundamental. Some drills that are used of concentrate the explosion of hips are the PVC drills (which are purchased at Home Depot) restraining the arms of the tackler to focus on keeping eyes up and explosion of the hips. Much of the study in tackling shows that the missed tackles or given up yardage results in player stopping feet while reaching out for the ball carrier. We also work on a squeeze the shield drill when on contact the ball carrier lets go of the shield forcing the tackler to squeeze it against the body. We also work a series of below the waist tackles without pads concentrating on the point of contact of the eyes through the thigh and shoulder tackling. Big emphasis is placed on working each angle on air and incorporating as much tackling fundamentals into individual drills such as closing space, transitioning feet and ball carrier angles.”

ME: “We partner up in everything we do. We will have a stationary ball carrier and we’ll have a young man on defense take three stride lengths away from that ball carrier in order to memorize his walk off. The first two or three days of camp we are doing these non contact tackling drills that are repping how I’m going from a long stride into the short stride then into the hit up position without going through the finish. The next thing we will do is have the defender find his walk off and then back up another five yards as will the running back. We call it time and distance where that running back will run straight downhill and we will comedown with long stride. When we hit that walk off we will use our short stride and do everything but finish. If I can get them in the position to finish by tracking the near hip by using near foot, near foot progression we have a pretty good shot at making the tackle without even making contact. When we work the swoop tackle, everything is exactly the same now when the linebacker walks off five yards, I’ll tell him to go five yards to his left or right. Now, if that back is coming downhill, the linebacker only sees one number so he is executing the swoop tackle but he still has to identify where his walk off position is. Once he hits his walk off position, he’s getting into my hit up approach and finish near foot, near foot.”

CK: “We never, ever tackle live in practice. Everything is about the approach, breakdown and leverage. That is the most important thing you can do. It’s more important than the actual tackle itself. We don't tackle live much here anymore with the concussion situation. We drill the approach more than anything else.”

MM: Per NCAA regulations, our first two practices of camp are without shoulder pads. Our initial tackling progression drills are executed in these practices. The majority of our tackling drills can be executed with or without shoulder pads (with varying tempos):

  • Static Force, Fit, Flow
    • Emphasis: Eyes, shoulder contact, hands
  • Feet Force, Fit, Flow
    • Eyes, shoulder contact, feet
  • Tracking Force, Fit, Flow
    • Eyes, feet
  • Finish Force, Fit, Flow
    • Shoulder contact, hands/feet

ES: Every one of our practices will include some sort of tackling. We start in fall camp. The odd number days in camp (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), we spent ten minutes in a circuit situation just doing tackling.

Day 1: We train their arms. We don’t want knock out or ‘ram’ (head down) tackles where guys are trying knock someone out.

Day 3: We work the footwork progression like a shimmy on a non-profile tackle.

Day 5: We work the near shoulder, near leg progression

Day 7: We work the roll tackle progression

Day 9: We work the knife tackle progression

Day 11: We work the swipe tackle progression

Then on even days we work turnovers and ball disruption drills. On these days, we work five minutes during individual periods to work tackling. What fundamentals we specifically will depend largely on what we think we need the most help with after reviewing the film from the game before.

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

By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs

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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Devising and Implementing a Tackling System

 

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