Words matter in coaching. Find out the specific words and phrases that guide some of the best tackling teams in football. Read more here...
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Designing Tackling Systems.”
Football is a game of short bursts and shorter words, so in this case we wanted to provide coaches with the specific verbiage our contributors are using to teach tackling. While some of these words may be familiar, there are different ways to say the same thing to your players and a coach never knows which words will stick. We asked our coaches the following question:
Which common buzzwords do you use to teach tackling with your players?
Mount Union University Buzzword Catalog (Chris Kappas, Defensive Coordinator)
“Full Speed as Long as Possible: “We talk about going full speed as long as you can to close out the space (between you and the ball carrier). You can’t give defenders a landmark because it’s a feel thing. It’s not three yards, etc. The goal is to get that near foot shimmy to step on that ball carrier’s toes. You have to break down close enough where he can make moves but you need to be far enough where he can’t run straight through you if you miss the arm tackle.”
Lindenwood University Buzzword Catalog (Jamie Marshall, Defensive Line Coach)- Rugby Style Emphasis
“Tracking the Near Thigh”: “We talk about tracking the near thigh (instead of the near hip) because as you track the ball carrier the near thigh always tells you where the receiver or the ball carrier is going. Your eyes can get lost if it’s up on the hip because that can lead to the belly button. We went to the near thigh. Wherever your eyes are looking your body is going to take you. We talk eyes to the thigh, wrap and squeeze. You can’t look at the hip if you’re asked to contact the thigh.”
“Shoulders Through Thighs”: This pertains to the finish component of the roll tackle where a defender’s shoulders makes contact with the ball carriers thighs.
“Run or Roll”: This pertains to the decision that the defender makes post contact on whether or not to run through the tackle or roll through the tackle.
North Dakota State University Buzzword Catalog (Matt Entz, Defensive Coordinator)
“Hit Up Position”: “We don't use the phrase coming to balance because I think it brings out some different thought processes for kids. If I just said ‘be careful to keep your balance,’ the general player will widen his feet and drop his center of gravity where his footwork is outside of his frame. Now if that ball carrier changes direction I’m going to have to step underneath myself to recover. What we talk a lot about is getting to a hit up position where my feet are under my armpits.”
“Near Foot, Near Foot”: “We are always attacking the near number or near pec of the ball carrier. We want to make sure we maintain the stagger position on the swoop (inside out) tackle.”
“Finish”: “We want our defenders to have eyes on the ball carrier’s throat with his hands in the holsters and grabbing cloth.”
“Head to Near Pec or Near Number or Near Armpit”: “We never teach having the head across. We tackle with our chest.”
“Keeping the Cup”: “We will have a pursuit player, force player and fill player in the cup always. For example, if we are playing a coverage such as Tampa two with the Mike and the back runs the check down because the Mike is dropping. The Will or Sam work a compression tackle with the Mike linebacker filling the cup. We should have three on one in our tackling situations. They have to understand where my leverage is and where my help can be coming from. They have to know if they are leverage players are spill players.”
“Suck the Air Out”: Used in open field tackle situations where the defender must close ground (suck air) on the ball carrier.”
“Jump off the Diving Board”: Used as a metaphor when defenders lunch at ball carriers without moving their feet.
Temple University Buzzword Catalog (Linebackers coach Mike Siravo)
“Grab Skin”: Rather then teaching to grab cloth, Coach Siravo teaches his players to grab the skin of the ball carrier to emphasize the clamp in tackling.
“Yell at Your Feet”: This emphasizes the quick feet movement needed after contact on a tackle.
The Solution to Missed Tackles
Regardless of what level you coach, or what
offense you're defending, we all face
the same issues in missed tackles
"Providing your players with a tackling system gives them a plan to fix their errors, which completely changes their confidence level."
- Chris Ash, Head Coach, Rutgers
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
You've developed systems for your offense, defense and special teams, but do you have a system for tackling?
Back in 2011, Southern Illinois University linebacker coach Eric Schmidt knew he needed to make a change. The Salukis, a respectable FCS program, had surrendered 126 yards per game on the ground and 27 points per game. He felt that same feeling of frustration creep in that we all do at times as defensive coordinators: he loved his unit, but knew that they weren't a very good defense. "We were just a poor tackling team," he told us. "We had to get back to training their arms and their lower half."
That season became the impetus for Coach Schmidt and his staff to examine the entire premise of how they were teaching tackling. "We worked very hard to improve our situations," he said. "We examined everything. We went back and tried to pinpoint the main components as to why we were missing these tackles. We started by saying 'okay, is it a profile tackle or is it not a profile tackle? Can the ball carrier see us coming or can't he?' Then we broke it up into the six different fundamentals or types of tackles that we would teach our guys and educate them on when is a good time to use these types of tackles."
So at that point, Coach Schmidt devised his tackling system, which is comprised of a series of drills that pinpoint certain issues his unit was having in tackling. Fast forward five years later now as the defensive coordinator at North Dakota, where the Fighting Hawks finished 6th in FCS in total defense, Coach Schmidt has honed his tackling system to fit both the schemes and situations that his unit will encounter on a weekly basis. And he's doing it using a circuit based system centered on four specific components that he details in our brand-new special report...
Devising and Implementing
a Tackling System
I'll show you how to get access to this special report in just a minute, but first we need to answer one critical question... "Why is it important to develop a system for tackling, just like you would use on offense, defense or special teams?" Because a system fosters a plan and a plan breeds confidence in your players. Most importantly, it provides answers when things go wrong. Because let's face it: regardless of what level you coach, or what offense you're defending, we all face the same issues in missed tackles. Our research dictated the following four most common issues in missed tackles:
- Improper body placement in open field tackling situations
- Losing one-on-one leverage (or tracking) points on the ball carrier
- Losing multiple defender leverage points on the ball carrier, or what is commonly referred to as "keeping the cup"
- Lunge tackling or leaving feet in strike phase
The idea is to develop your tackling system to combat those issues. Regardless if you are a rugby style tackling unit or not, in our special report on "Devising and Implementing a Tackling System," we researched the systems of nine collegiate programs. We include the rugby tackling group that worked with the Seahawks to study how they were teaching tackling. We wanted to know how they track missed tackles. What fundamental mistakes do they work tirelessly in addressing? What situational tackling do they spend time on? What common buzzwords do they use to train their players on the proper contact points? How much time do they spend both in camp and in season to teach tackling?
This brand-new special report provides you with a framework of a system that helps create and develop the drill work which reinforces the proper tackling techniques and helps your defenders fix the most common errors in tackling.
In this report, we highlight the four main issues and provide the corrective measures our contributors are using to fix them. What's interesting is that many of these same coaches (regardless of whether they are using rugby style or not) are addressing these very issues with limited contact. Recent studies have shown that limiting or eliminating contact practices would result in an 18-40% decrease in head impacts or concussions during the course of a season. Research has shown that footwork is the most under coached aspect of tackling, which is why 87 percent of the drills in this special report can be done without pads.
As Mike Siravo, the linebackers coach at Temple told us he'll even take his players helmets off in practice to keep their heads and eyes up. So instead of rolling out dozens of tacking drills that you can find anywhere, our intent with this study is to help provide you with a plan or system on how you will address your tackling issues this fall.
The programs that contributed to this report include:
- Temple University, Mike Siravo (Linebackers Coach)
- Rutgers University, Jay Niemann (Defensive Coordinator)
- North Dakota University, Eric Schmidt (Defensive Coordinator)
- North Dakota State University, Matt Entz (Defensive Coordinator)
- Wagner University, Vincent DiGaetano (Defensive Analyst)
Division II Level:
- Lindenwood University (MO), Jamie Marshall (Defensive Line Coach)
- Northern State University (SD), Matt McLagan (Defensive Coordinator)
Division III Level:
- Mount Union University, Chris Kappas (Defensive Coordinator)
- University of St. Francis, Joey Didier (Co-Defensive Coordinator)
This entire special report is presented in six individual cases and with one bonus case. Please note, this study includes detailed video illustrating the drills and coaching points presented.
Here's a quick look at what you'll find in each of these cases...
Case 1: Developing Your Tackling System
In this case, we research the tackling systems of all these programs and perhaps more importantly why they decided to implement them. We go into depth on how they developed their systems. Some of the research uncovered in this case includes:
- How these programs classify and track missed tackles when they review film.
- How they are broken down into the various types of missed tackles either based on situation or fundamental.
- How this information is shared with players and coaches.
- How programs are developing a "Scenario-Based Plan" for solving their tackling issues, which can be classified as cutback tackles, head in the hole tackles, open field tackles, sideline tackles, outside-in tackles, etc.
- How programs are developing a "Fundamental-Based Plan" for solving their tackling issues, which can be classified as leverage, tracking, eyes, feet and hands.
- How much time is delegated to practicing tackling both in fall camp and in-season.
- The training methods and circuit work these coaches are using to develop their tackling system.
- How much non-contact tackling progressions these coaches are using in fall camp and during the season.
Case 2: Reinforcing Proper Body Placement in Open Field Tackling
Defenders will often come in too high or even too low on the ball carrier. This fundamental cannot be taught just by telling players to "break down." Tackling in the open field starts with the right approach. We found that coaches are using perpetual drill work to teach the body placement to be in the right position on the approach to making the tackle. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:
- Temple University's 10-yard Drill
- Temple University's Step and Replace Drill
- Temple University's Stem Drill
- Temple University's Come to Balance Drill
- North Dakota University's Shimmy Tackle Drill
- Lindenwood University's Long Stride/Short Stride Drill
- Rutgers University One on One Leverage Drill
- Lindenwood University's Footwork with Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Come to Balance Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Come to Balance Angle Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Strike Zone Tackle Drill
Case 3: Reinforcing Tracking Issues in One-on-One Tackling Situations
Commonly referred to as "tracking" the ball carrier, defenders must be taught to use the proper leverage points when approaching a ball carrier to make a tackle. Leverage can pertain to both the area of the field (sideline, force or cutback) and it can also pertain to the leverage the defender has on the ball carrier (inside out, head up or outside in).
In this case, we present how coaches are teaching leverage as it relates to both of those elements and the corrective drills they use to enforce it. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:
- Lindenwood University Sideline Leverage Drill
- Lindenwood University Inside Out Tracking Drill
- Lindenwood University Quick Crawl Leverage Drill
- Rutgers University Sideline Tracking Drill
- Rutgers University Sideline Tackling Drill
- Rutgers University Partner Tracking Drill
- Rutgers University 10-yard Inside Out Tracking Drill
- Rutgers University 5-Yard Inside Out Tracking Drill
- Wagner College Open Field Balance and Tracking Drill
- Wagner College Near Foot Cutback Drill
- Mount Union University One on One Tracking Drill
- Mount Union University Outside In Tracking Drill
- Mount Union University Inside Out Tracking Drill
- Northern State University Outside In Tracking Drill
- Northern State University Close the Grass Drill
- University of St. Francis Angle Run Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Roll Tackle Drill
- Temple University Angle Tackle Drill
- North Dakota Leverage Tracking Drill
- North Dakota University Knife Tackle Drill
- North Dakota University Roll Tackle Drill
- North Dakota University Competitive Tackle Progression
Case 4: Reinforcing Multiple Defender Leverage Points on Ball Carrier
Most commonly referred to as "losing the cup", losing multiple defender leverage points on a ball carrier are another common issue in tackling. What should usually result in an immediate tackling situation can turn into a substantial gain if one or more of those defenders lose leverage. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:
- Mount Union University Leverage Pursuit Drill
- Mount Union University Compression Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Two-Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Three Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
- Northern State University Two on One Close the Grass Drill
- Northern State University Three Defender Leverage Tackle Drill
- Lindenwood University Dive Bomb Tackle Drill
- Wagner College Three Level Tackle Drill
Case 5: Reinforcing Proper Strike Points on Contact
Once the approach is mastered and the proper leverage is attained, the defender needs to "finish" on the ball carrier by bringing him down to the ground. How coaches implement this fundamental in their system varies. Some use mats, some use agile bags and some use bodies. Below are the specific drills that teach this phase of tackling. Some of the drill work we researched in this case includes:
- Temple University Recoil Drill
- Temple University Three-Yard Tackle Drill
- Lindenwood University One-Knee Strike Drill
- Rutgers University Near Foot Tackle Drill
- Rutgers University Roll Tackle Drill
- Rutgers University Inside Out Mat Tackle Drill
- University of St. Francis Wrap and Squeeze Drill
- University of St. Francis Mat Tackle Drill
- Northern State University Shoot, Wrap and Squeeze Drill
- Northern State University Clamp Tackle on Mat Drill
- Northern State University Flow Finish Drill
- Northern State University Swipe Finish Drill
- Wagner College PVC Shoot Hips Drill
- Wagner College Restricted Arms/Strain Tackle Drill
- Mount Union Mat Tackle Drill
- North Dakota Mat Tackle Drill
- North Dakota University Swipe Tackle Drill
Case 6: Implementing the Rugby Style Tackling System
Back in 2014 the Seattle Seahawk Rugby tackling video went viral sending hundreds of coaches to reconsider how they were teaching tackling. Now two years later, Atavus, the Seattle based company that was behind that Seahawk drill tape, has put together a system on how you can design and implement the rugby tackling system in your program. In this case, we detail how they are developing their system to suit the needs of football coaches for this coming season as they transition rugby style tackling into the football field this fall. Some of the research we present in this case includes:
- Why Atavus breaks down its rugby tackling progression into two phases.
- The three components that make up how Atavus teaches the "pre-contact phase" of tackling, including video of the drill work Washington University used this spring to implement them.
- The three components that make up how Atavus teaches the "post contact phase" of tackling, including video of the drill work Washington University used this spring to implement them.
- The five categories of drill work that Atavus uses when designing its tackling system including video of these drills.
Bonus Case: The Buzzword Catalog of Tackling
Football is a game of short bursts and shorter words, so in this case we wanted to provide coaches with the specific verbiage our contributors are using to teach tackling. While some of these words may be familiar, there are different ways to say the same thing to your players and a coach never knows which words will stick. In this case, we asked our contributors which buzzwords they use when teaching tackling.
This entire special report, including all 6 cases (with bonus case) and drill video is available right now on our Insiders membership website.
>>Get Instant Access<<