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By Joey Mariani, Defensive , University of Redlands (CA)

Tackling has changed, and so have the drills used to teach and rep it on a daily basis. See how Coach Mariani trains his guys using exercise balls. Read the report.


By Joey Mariani
Defensive Coordinator
University of Redlands (CA)
Twitter: @UR_CoachMariani

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In teaching tackling, we emphasize what we call the “Three Rules of a Bulldog Tackle.” First, you must be able to see what you are hitting. This point of emphasis prevents our players from hitting with the crown of their helmets. Second, we tell them to lower your target. We coach that your eyes should be on the ball. This helps prevent the helmet to helmet contact that we are all aware of and teaches safer tackling. Lowering the target also gets our defenders closer to the ball and therefore, leads to more turnovers. Third, we teach them to finish through the ball carrier with a low to high wrapping up motion with your arms.

At the University of Redlands, we use alternative methods to teach basic fundamentals, keep players engaged, keeps players safe and maximize learning in a limited time frame. The following drills are used by us in the spring (because we aren’t in pads), or at the end of week when we still want to practice tackling fundamentals without the violence so close to game time.

The drill that we use for our safeties is designed to teach them to come to balance out of a full speed run in multiple directions and situations while using an exercise ball to finish the drill.  We have found that the exercise ball forces players to sink their hips, to run through the ball carrier, to wrap up and it is a very non-violent way to practice tackling. The ball is also a very inexpensive piece of equipment. Conversely, the other tackling devises out there are expensive and just don’t have the ability to be utilized in a fast / effective manner. The use of the exercise ball can be utilized to finish any drill that a coach has that will have the player finish with a tackle. For example, our players will learn to cut-to-tackle, block destruction to tackle, bag drill to tackle, get-off with a slant to tack, etc. I think that the possibilities are endless with the use of the exercise ball in multiple defensive positions.

The following drill is used with our safeties to simulate multiple direction and methods to come to balance when tackling. At the University of Redlands, we play a 3-3-5 defense and our safeties are asked to do a lot in our scheme. For that reason, we incorporate the directional movements they use as they are run fit on a ball carrier. All the while, we are making sure they come to balance in the proper way for each direction. 

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  • Film of how Coach Mariani teaches the come to balance fundamental with an exercise ball.
  • Film of how Coach Mariani teaches the angle tackle fundamental with an exercise ball.
  • Film of how Coach Mariani teaches the force tackle fundamental with an exercise ball.

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Tackling is part of the game that obviously can’t be ignored. We have found that this set of drills help us ensure that we are teaching the safe technique consistently before and during the season. I hope this helps you and your team this coming fall. Thanks to X&O Labs for allowing me to share.

Meet Coach Mariani: Joey Mariani joined Bulldog Athletics in the summer of 2007 as an assistant football coach, working primarily with the running backs. In early 2010, he moved into a full-time role as the Director of Football Operations and later was promoted to Defensive Coordinator. Mariani arrived at Redlands with over 17 years of coaching experience, holding stints at Garey High School in Pomona as head football coach for six years and defensive coordinator for three years. Most recently, he served as the defensive coordinator at his alma mater of Fontana High School. Earlier in his career, Mariani coached the defensive line and linebackers for the legendary Dick Bruich at FHS.



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