In order to remake his defense, Coach Young went back to the basics and made form tackling a priority. Take a look at the every day drills that he adapted to turn his linebackers into tackling machines.
By David Young - @HawkFB_CoYo
Skyview High School (ID)
Editor’s Note: Coach Young has been the head coach at Skyview HS for 11years and has 19 years experience overall. He has coached LBs for 17 of those 19 years. His players have been named All-Conference Defensive MVP, five 1st Team All-Conference LBs, and two 1st Team All-State LBs. The Skyview defense has ranked in the top 5 in the 4A level for each of the past four years. This year, Skyview played in the State Championship game for the first time in its history.
Three years ago, our leading tackler was our free safety. The kid was really good so his success is understandable, but that also meant our LB group was not and in turn our defense was just average. The more we discussed this issue as a staff, the more we felt this was a problem that we needed to address if our team was going to be really successful and fulfill our understanding of what we want our defense to be.
For us, it came down to this statement “the linebacker position is the heart of the defense.” We want the expectation for our defense is that the linebackers make all the tackles. For this to be possible, it is essential to teach fundamental tackling skills while engaging them at the linebacker position.
Moving forward, we worked specifically toward that goal. Two years ago our top two tacklers were linebackers and last year our top five tacklers were linebackers. In turn, our defense has been at the top in our league and in the state each of the last two years. Last year’s statistics are really impressive considering we only played with four linebackers on the field. Our starting four linebackers recorded 75, 63, 60, and 56 combined tackles each. Our next leading tackler was a linebacker who was first off the bench and only started three games due to injuries sustained by the starters. He still finished the season with 60 combined tackles. Our FS was next on the list with 45 combined tackles.
Our linebackers have to be great tacklers for this to happen. Over the course of this article I will explain the method I use to teach fundamental tackling skills while evaluating the talent of our kids. The drill sequence that you will see below is essential in creating purposeful learning and repetitions for our kids. Much of what we are using here is thanks to Thurmond Moore and his Tackling Academy concepts. We adapted it to fit our situation with our kids.
Fundamental Tackling Drills / Evaluation
Every spring I begin at square one with all of my linebackers regardless of experience. I also start here when fall camp opens. This is where I get to teach my athletes how to tackle like linebackers. This is where they learn how to stand, run, hit, and tackle like a linebacker should. I also begin evaluating their ability not just for starting positions and playing time but for the progression of drills that we will cover throughout the season. In high school we are not able to recruit our athletes. We have what we have. It is my job to make them the best version of themselves that they can be.
Some of the older more experienced linebackers may view this as tedious and boring. This is where they get to become the leaders and role models to the younger guys by demonstrating what the technique looks like when perfected and even help teach a bit.
I start with a handful of drills that are fundamental to the position regardless of ability. They must be mastered and become routine before we advance to more specialized drills.
The goal is to teach them to tackle with their entire body. I focus on the hips and feet to teach them to engulf the ball carrier and run through him.
I start at the top of this list with the first two drills on day one. Depending on the athleticism of my players, I will add 1-2 drills per day.
- Wrap-Up - Starting on two knees, I have them squeeze their elbows while trying to grab the back of the jersey. We use hand shields and old shoulder pads with jerseys to simulate the ball carrier.
- Coaching Points: Shoot hands through arm pits push hips forward. Hands should end up slightly above head. Elbows get to chest level. Squeeze elbows as much as possible. Eyes on hands.
- Hip-Fire - With one knee on the ground and one knee up, I have them Wrap-Up, then fire their hips. They do this by standing on the Up knee and shooting the Down knee up to their chest. Rotate both legs or positions.
- Coaching Points: The Wrap-up technique from above must be employed. Fire hips by shooting the down leg up. Knee should get to chest high level.
- (Partner Drills – one athlete working while one holds a tackling bag)
- Bag Hip-Fire #1 - With both knees on the ground, I have them shoot their arms, Wrap-Up, then fire their hips. They should fall forward onto the ground. Repeat 3 reps in succession.
- Coaching Points: Hands must fire through and grab top of bag. Squeeze bag with elbows and chest. Pop hips and fall to ground.
- Bag Hip-Fire #2 - With one knee on the ground and one knee up, I have them fire their arms, Wrap-Up, then fire their hips. They do this by standing on the Up knee and shooting the Down knee up to their chest. Repeat 3 reps in succession. Rotate both legs or positions.
- Coaching Points: The bag should be in line with the middle of their body and tight to their hips and chest when they fire through. The Down knee must fire up to chest level. Leg must go around the bag.
- Bag Hip-Fire Finish - With one knee on the ground and one knee up, I have them fire their arms, Wrap-Up, then fire their hips. They do this by standing on the Up knee and shooting the Down knee up to their chest then finish with rapid high knees for 3-5 yards. Rotate both legs or positions.
- Coaching Points: Concentrate on Wrap-up and firing hips then finish with fast high knees. Legs will go around the bag.
- One-Step - From the base stance, athlete steps with one foot, wraps-up and shoots the hip by firing the opposite leg through. Repeat 3 reps in succession.
- Coaching Points: This drill should look like #4 but from a standing LB position. The drill will become one fluid movement with experience.
- Finish - This is the One-Step drill above adding a finish where the athlete will run quick high knees for 4-5 steps after wrapping up and shooting the hip.
- Coaching Point: Make sure that the bag is engulfed by the body of the LB squeezing with elbows.
- Straight Approach - Athlete 3 yards away from bag. Rapid fire feet straight to bag, wrap up, pop hip, fire opposite knee through. (Add the Finish for 4-5 steps when mastered.)
- Coaching Points: Work the right foot as the lead foot swinging the left leg through for 3 reps then switch the feet. When leg fires through, the knee should get chest high.
- Angle Approach - Athlete 3x3 yards away from bag. Shuffle to bag, step through, wrap up, pop hip, fire opposite knee through. (Add the Finish for 4-5 steps when mastered.)
- Coaching Points: I want my guys to cut off the bag/RB with the lead leg and fire the opposite leg through. One direction with be awkward for your athletes for a while.
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- How he drills his player to tackle on the move.
- How he drills his players to tackle in the open field.
- Drill videos of his Feet-Hip Obstacle Drill, his Open field Tackling Drills, his Pass Drops drill and his Tackle fundamental drills.
As you can see, one drill builds on another. I also incorporate tackling drills into our scheme drills such as pass drops to emphasize breaking down on the approach, open-field tackling, and to consolidate for time. There is never enough time for drill work during game week so I tend to blend drills together to save time and get more work in. I never push more on my athletes then they can handle. I also tend to review at the midpoint of the season and into the playoffs.