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fautackleBy Mike Kuchar, Lead Research Manager, X&O Labs

Tackle situations are either made in open space or closed space. As we reported last week, while tackling in the open field continues can be issue of defensive concern, tackling in closed spaces has its own share of issues too. Closed space tackling is defined by a one-on-one tackle situation with a defender and ball carrier in a limited amount of running area. Also known as “in the hole” tackle situations, we found that this type of tackle has a 31 percent missed rate. Why they are missed falls into three main problem areas: defenders not staying square on the ball carrier, defenders not striking up and throw the ball carrier and defenders not bringing their feet on contact. As a follow up to last week’s open field tackling report, we present what we feel are the eight most effective drills to use with your players on how to alleviate issues in tackling in closed spaces. Read the report here.

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


Insiders Members: Login here to access the full-length version of this report.



fautackleWe were surprised to find that these types of tackles had a 31 percent missed rate. Open field tackling is perpetually touted as one of the bigger challenges in defensive football, yet we’ve talked to numerous coaches who have worked hard on enforcing how to teach their defenders to make one on one in the hole tackles with limited space around them. While these types of missed tackles may not present the highest rate of big plays, they do present the risk of ball carriers lunging for extra yards on contact, which could result in drive sustainability. We found the following common errors as it pertains to open field tackling:

  • Not staying square on ball carrier
  • Not striking up and through ball carrier
  • Not running feet on contact

So we combed through our drill library to find the eight drills that best presented the most effective ways to fix these issues complete with coaching points and video. We classified them into which of these problem areas they alleviate.

Editor’s Note: The following drills are cataloged in our drill film library. Insiders members can gain access to our entire drill and game film library, which contain more drills done by these programs.

Issue: Not Staying Square on Ball Carrier

In a one on one tackle situation in closed space, the defender must know that he has the option of using either outside in or inside out leverage. But whichever leverage he chooses he must stay square or risk the ball carrier falling forward for extra yards after contact. Chris Ash, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State University talks about keeping the outside hip closed in order to stay square. These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.

Drill 2: Bag Tackle Drill, University of Kentucky


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Drill 3: Sprint, Shimmy, Shuffle Drill, Immaculata High School (NJ)


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Issue: Not Wrapping Up and Through the Ball Carrier

Once the defender is square on the ball carrier and in a good position on contact, he must be able to throw his arms and hands through the ball carrier. Regardless of how coaches are teaching this phase, some talk about “double uppercuting” while others talk about “raking” the ball carrier, the defender must bring his arms up and through runner. Failure to do so, results in an arm tackle and in turn extra offensive yardage. These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.

Drill 1: Break, Club and Wrap Tackle, University of Wisconsin


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

Issue: Not Running Feet Through Tackle

Finally, once contact is made and the wrap is established, defenders must learn to move their feet on contact. Fact is, defensive coaches don’t want stalemates, they want knockbacks. Knockbacks on ball carriers occur when the defender drives his feet through the ball carrier on contact. Jason Their, the defensive coordinator at the University of Mary (ND) talks to his players about keeping their feet “hot” on contact. “All the power we have as a football player is generated from our legs and hips,” said Their. “So by stopping our feet on contact we are eliminating our hips from coming through and turning off all the power to the tackle. Conversely by driving our feet on contact we are able to win in the hole and eliminate excess yardage earned after contact.” These are the best drills we’ve found to reinforce this fundamental.

Drill 1: Angle Tackle, Virginia Tech University


To see the video component of this drill, click on the video below:

What You’re Missing…

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, and get instant access to the full-length version of this drill report. Here’s a small list of what you’ll find in the full-length report:

  • The drill work used at Florida Atlantic University to teach its players to stay square in the hole tackle situations.
  • The drills used at the University of Wisconsin, which teaches its defenders to club up and wrap the ball carrier once they get to ball level.
  • How Ohio State University is teaching its defenders to combat possible spin moves in attempt by ball carriers in closed space to gain extra yards.
  • The 3 on 1 Tackle Drill used at Virginia Tech University, which teaches defenders to keep their feet live on head up and angle tackle situations.
  • Plus video of all these drills.

Join the Insiders. Go Here.


It’s never too early or late to work these drill progressions with your defensive unit. Closed space tackle situations occur on a series by series basis and keeping your players aware of the fundamentals necessary to make these plays will only increase your unit’s tackling percentages.



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