What's up Who Dats! Welcome back to Tee's Corner. Today we talk about tackling!
As players have become bigger, faster, and stronger, the splash plays within the game have been pushed into the forefront and fundamentals have taken a back seat. This poses a huge problem for teams because the amount of missed tackles is unacceptable and almost unreal in some cases. The truth is that the problem doesn't start at the professional level, it starts in Pop Warner/youth league football. This fact also impacts the amount of concussions that are happening at every level of football in the world. Let's take some time to talk about why there is hope for better tackling going forward and how poor tackling is affecting our favorite football team, the New Orleans Saints.
A Promising Future
Just to give you guys a bit of background on myself: In the Fall most years, I coach youth football with players ranging from age 5 to age 14. We start them with flag football for 2 years if possible, then progress them to tackle football at age 7. While not common among flag coaches, I begin to teach tackling in the flag age group. The reasoning is very simple: learn to hit without pads and develop muscle memory so wearing actual pads does not diminish the technique. As a league mandate, all coaches in our league are required to take several safety courses including the 'Heads Up' course on the Center for Disease Control's website (concussion training), a first aid course in person, and a six hour Tackle-Sure program that is led by former pro athletes and coaches. The value of these courses is that it teaches coaches the proper techniques to instruct the youth players on how to make safe, sure tackles and not take chances on splash plays.
The videos are very in-depth and use a tackle progression format that starts with players working individually on moving their bodies into position and arm placement to make good clean tackles. The drills then progress to using tackling/blocking shields to simulate impact and proper wrapping technique. The final escalation is using player versus player interaction at walk-through speed which accounts for creating a better understanding of how it feels when bodies make contact. The biggest plus with the program is that the players can perform the drills in shorts and t-shirts, so the urge to go full bore is reduced. What you end up with is well educated players who are essentially 'programmed' to tackle properly and efficiently. I thoroughly enjoy teaching the techniques and happily pay the small fee to take the course every fall. These programs are available to anyone who is interested in learning about the way the football community is addressing player safety and concussion training at the youth level. This will show up in the next few years at the college and professional levels.
The Time is Now
In 2014 the Saints defense finished last in tackling efficiency! Basically, our guys squandered many opportunities to stop opposing offenses. According to Pro Football Focus, the Saints defense missed 148 tackles in 1092 snaps, about 13%. I was able to find that inside linebacker Curtis Lofton led his position with 22 missed tackles at a rate of 1 missed every 7.5 attempts. By comparison, James Laurinaitis only missed 4 but tallied to more snaps than Lofton. Cornerback Keenan Lewis missed 10 tackles coming at a rate of 1 miss for every 5.2 attempts. The back end of the defense was left virtually unprotected as safety Kenny Vaccaro missed 19 tackles at a rate of 1 miss for every 4.5 attempts. The surprise statistic of my fact finding mission was that the Saints special teams units was middle of the pack at 18 missed tackles, the exact same as Super Bowl participants the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. The Saints special teams unit is comprised of (hopefully) potential starters, so all is not lost.
The changes must begin now! The coaches may need to take a page from the youth football leagues and work on tackling with the players. As silly and simple as my theory may be, the league could help alleviate two major problems by embracing a return to fundamentals. The fact that tackling can be practiced without pads or full contact seems to make the suggestion reasonable. In particular, I'd love to hear that the Saints defensive players are working with coaches to get the tackling under control. So, if you're reading this Kenny V, Mr. Lofton, and WestBank, please get back to basics and start taking advantage of the tackling opportunities!
Your turn CSC, tell us how you feel about the future of form tackling in football and also what you think would help the Saints defense get better at it! It's been real, Be Cool Who Dats!