“What the Hell is going on out there?” bellows Vince Lombardi in possibly his most famous sideline tantrum captured by NFL Films. “Nobody tackles out there, everybody’s grabbing! No tackling, just grabbing! Grab! Grab! Grab!”
Forty years later I feel much of Coach Lombardi’s pain. Pure form tackling is becoming a dying art not only in the National Football League, but in college and high school as well.
There is no doubt that the players today are more athletic than ever before, but are they still fundamentally sound? The following is a description of the proper tackling technique from the Human Kinetics website.
The keys to good tackling are getting in the correct position and generating an explosion at the point of impact. The number-one tackling technique is bending the knees. Many beginning tacklers make the mistake of bending at the waist instead of bending at the knees. Bending at the waist causes the back to bow, brings the head and eyes down, and increases the chance of injury.
After bending the knees, the tackler lowers his body in preparation for impact. He keeps his back straight and his head up at all times, focusing his eyes directly on the ball carrier’s chest. Every player needs to keep his head up and eyes open during the tackle. The tackler should never lower his helmet, because doing so could result in neck injuries. Players should be reminded repeatedly to make contact with their shoulder pads, never with any part of their helmets.
At the point of impact, the tackler takes off on the foot nearest the ball carrier. If the ball carrier cuts to his left (the tackler’s right), the tackler should take off of his left foot. When the tackler uses this foot as his explosion foot, his body will be in the correct position: head in front of the ball carrier, eyes focused on the center of the ball carrier’s chest. Exploding off the proper foot and taking short choppy steps (leg drive) help the tackler make clean contact with the ball carrier.
When the tackler feels his pads hit the ball carrier’s body, he drives his shoulder pads up and through the side of the ball carrier and slams both arms into him. The tackler’s elbows make the first contact. His front arm makes contact with the ball carrier’s belly and his back arm makes contact with the ball carrier’s lower back. The tackler automatically raises his hands to the front and back of the ball carrier’s jersey and grabs the jersey securely in both hands. The tackler continues his leg drive up and through the ball carrier and finishes by bringing the ball carrier to the ground.
The above four paragraphs are succinctly invoked by Detroit Lions head coach and former Tampa Bay assistant Rod Marinelli in his famous phrase, “Get Low!!”
Most of the tackling today doesn’t follow this form. A lot of what we see now is players going for the “Big Hit.” Instead of tackling people to the ground, players now try to knock each other to the ground. The result of this poor tackling technique is a rather over-priced game of “flag football.”
One pleasant exception to this trend has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Monte Kiffin era. Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin brought game-changing defense back to Tampa Bay after a 15-year absence. The Tampa Cover 2 is a great defensive scheme that has been duplicated around the league, but the true genius of the defense is the simple fact that it is predicated on tackling and speed, not glitzy hits that look good on SportsCenter but don’t always equate to championships (see: Chargers, San Diego as the latest example of a team with a “Big Hitter” (Shawne Merriman) that doesn’t tackle very well in the clutch.)
At the height of the Bucs’ defensive dominance every layer of the Tampa Bay defense tackled well. On the line Warren Sapp, Brad Culpepper, Greg Spires and Steve White were all solid tacklers. Simeon Rice was also a dependable tackler as long as he was tackling a quarterback and not a halfback.
Derrick Brooks in his prime was a tackling machine second only to Hardy Nickerson in his prime. Shelton Quarles, Al Singleton and the much-maligned Jamie Duncan also wrapped up well.
In the secondary John Lynch, Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly are well known contributors but let’s not forget that the best cornerback the Buccaneers have ever had at forcing the action on a sweep was Donnie Abraham.
Today’s Bucs have don’t have as many solid tacklers as I would like, but Chris Hovan, Barrett Ruud and Tanard Jackson are growing on me. It’s no coincidence that in the games the Bucs have won the defense has done a great job of clamping down. In the four losses, missed tackles including some by an aging Brooks have cost the team dearly.
The #1 key for the rest of the season will continue to be keeping Jeff Garcia healthy. Key 1A though will be Monte Kiffin’s continuing efforts of getting his young defenders (paging Gaines Adams, paging Mr. Gaines Adams) to consistently wrap up.