NFL Must ‘Talk the Talk’ on Concussion Prevention & it Starts with Proper Tackling Technique
The NFL company line is prioritizing it’s stance on safer play which will result in fewer instances of concussions. As the picture to the left shows — either players aren’t following coaches’ guidelines of ‘heads up’ tackling or coaches are allowing for shoddy tackling technique…or possibly it’s a combination of those two situations. In last Friday’s preseason opener for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, there were several instances of players from each team with their heads down as they engaged in tackling attempts.
Aside from a slew of missed tackles, any high school football coach looking at the game is thinking, “How am I supposed to preach ‘heads up’ and ‘you can’t hit what you can’t see’ when the professionals are blatantly ignoring such technique?” We already have to tell our student-athletes to stop sitting on your helmet (at $400 a pop, it’s not a disposable item ala the NFL), quit emulating the narcissistic NFL wide out du jour and his childish tantrums, watch what’s posted on social media, etc.
“What you allow is what will continue.” — Unknown
In the workplace, in the class room and on the practice field it doesn’t matter…it’s all about what is allowed. Coaches, even in the NFL, sometimes tire of the repetitious corrections but if you want to have something to become second nature (proper tackling form, e.g.) than it’s imperative to consistently stress the importance of fundamentals. Are the two bad tackling pictures a result of the coaches being lax? Is it because the players are defensive backs and it seems difficult at times to get some skilled personnel to be physical? Or, is it because the players simply ignore the proper techniques?
Let’s jump to the opposite end of the spectrum! Same game and we see two examples of proper tackling technique.
Albeit the attack point is a bit high, but rookie Devin Bush is shown with a good tackling technique. Head-up, hits with shoulder, rolls hip to transfer power from the lower body and wraps the ball carrier with his arms. Essentially, this is a safe tackle.
Next, is a combined tackle (two players tackling together cannot really be called a gang tackle) between Bush and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi. Both players are linebackers. As the picture shows, the contact is initiated by the shoulders of both players. The heads are up, allowing them to correctly begin the tackling progression technique.
Why are these linebackers better tacklers? Is it because linebackers traditionally spend more individual drill time practicing the tackling technique? If so, why? My thoughts go old school for the answer. A couple years into his NFL career, cornerback Rod Woodson noted if a defensive back wanted to play for then-Steelers coach Chuck Noll they had to make sure tackles. There was no separation in tackling abilities for position players.
Woodson and Deion Sanders played in the NFL during the same time. Sanders was a great shutdown corner for multiple teams. Was he better than Woodson at coverage? Yes. However, there was no comparison when it came to run support, blitzing or tackling between the two. The glitz and glamour of Neon Deion was much more attractive to impressionable youth football players than the physical nature displayed by Woodson. Remember, Woodson had his fair share of splash plays (Pick-6’s, punt and kickoff returns), too.
Why bring up the Woodson-Sanders comparison? It’s time the NFL coaches emphasize proper tackling for all 11 defenders on the field. Everyone on the same page of fundamentals and tackling technique will do much more to lessen the number of concussions than any rules changes will accomplish.
There has been some progress in this area, notably started by Seattle’s Pete Carroll’s implementing the ‘Hawk or rugby-style tackle. To simplify it even more, USA Football has expanded this focus on the shoulder tackle progression. The process is in place. Now, it’s time for the NFL to make every player practice what the league preaches.