This is a very special edition of the Your Best 11 Mailbag, because there is one question and it is one that gets brought up a lot. We're talking tackling today. Just tackling. Only tackling. Nothing but tackling. Here we go.
@InTheBleachers why has tackling devolved into pro wrestling body slams?— Andrew J Abernathy (@ajabernathy) March 14, 2014
Tackling has been my favorite part of football since middle school. Prior to seventh grade, I think the fun part for me was the scoring of touchdowns and knowing what everyone on the field was supposed to be doing.
When I got to middle school, kids got to be about my same size and tackling the right way—not just grabbing and slinging—became paramount to success. I really loved the act.
Everyone is looking for an answer as to why tackling has suffered. The truth is there are a myriad of factors all working to make the art of tackling increasingly difficult.
I think the biggest factor contributing to the influx of missed tackles and poor technique is increasingly complex offenses. Plenty of people chalk it all up to just laziness and that just doesn't seem fair, so let me walk you all through my points.
Yes, players are bigger, faster and stronger now than ever before. However, I think how the offenses operate is the most critical factor.
It starts with time, something that is finite when it comes to teams' preparation. Defenses only have a certain amount of hours on the practice field and, as the offenses get increasingly complex, those hours do not grow, but what must be crammed into them steadily increases.
During the season, that means you have to install the plan. Teams also have to install the adjustments. Then coaches must familiarize players with the offense's favorite plays and adjustments to when the favorite plays are taken away.
Add in the weekly blitz packages and auto-checks out of the blitz and the plate is extremely full for the short practice week.
So, where do you buy extra time and, more importantly, extra attention to detail?
Easy: individual drills and team fundamental times. A lot of teams just cannot squeeze in the time to do team tackler or team pursuit during the season. Those issues get hit in summer and fall camp, but once the season hits, it is game plan, adjustments and getting starters reps against the look team.
Other teams keep the tackling built into the schedule, but it becomes a formality instead of an aggressively critiqued period. Corrections come as "Hey, don't do that" instead of the tough teaching that comes with missed assignments during seven-on-seven or team period.
The teams that drill tackling consistently show themselves on the field. Teams that tackle well do not have the "You'll get them next time" mentality. Missed tackles are punished. Players come out of the game.
Meanwhile, other teams allow guys who consistently miss tackles due to poor angles and lazy technique to stay in the ballgame.
That, of course, goes back to mentality, what coaches expect and how they view defense. For a lot of teams, the defensive side of the ball is an afterthought. An also-ran. The time of the game when they have to wait around before their baby—the offense—can get back out on the field.
As offenses become more complex, they are not only taxing defenses to adjust, but they are billing their own defenses. Defenses come second with respect to coaches' attention and, in many cases, personnel.
That guy who could be a great corner becomes a seldom-used fifth receiver. The H-back who could really help as a linebacker is an extra blocker.
Offenses increasing in scope need more pieces and more attention. Defense has consistently fallen by the wayside as the focus becomes increasingly offensive.
At this point, only teams for which defense is non-negotiable display sound principles on a year-to-year basis.
This brings us back to the original question and the answer: When you don't practice it, allow poor technique to go uncorrected, don't pay attention to the bad habits and ask players who are often not as good as the offensive guys to tackle, you end up with a mess.