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formtackleBy William Mitchell, Head Coach, Lewisville High School (SC)

Clean up your teams open field tackling form with these simple tips and drills.

By William Mitchell

Head Coach

Lewisville High School (SC)

Watch a few games any weekend and you are bound to see an abundance of missed tackles.  And just in case you don’t see them, the announcers will make sure to talk about how "bad tackling has gotten and how coaches just need to get back to the fundamentals if they want to win."  As a defensive coordinator for the past 12 years, I come at this from a completely different angle.  I don’t necessarily believe that we (defensive coaches) have started to blow off fundamentals as much as it has to do with the changes in offensive schemes and overall team strength & conditioning.

Think about if for a second…Offensive football, whether it be Mike Leach's Air Raid or Urban Meyer's Spread Option or even Paul Johnson's Double Wing, has become a game where the best coaches seek to create more one on one match-ups out in space. This requires the defensive players to make more one on one open-field tackles than before. In addition, athletes are becoming stronger and faster at the lower levels of football than they have ever been before.

And while these changes certainly do change the game is played, they haven’t always changed the ways that we prepare.  In many ways, the traditional tackling drills that have been used for decades are not preparing our players to succeed in the modern game.  They are more focused on "tackling in a phone booth" so to speak instead of making the player a better open-field tackler. Sure the old "Door Drill" and the "Eye-Opener Drill" certainly still have their place, but do they really help a player get ready to tackle Percy Harvin on the bubble screen? 

For that reason, I go into every off-season looking for new drills that can specifically prepare my athletes to tackle in space.  Ideally, these drills should be effective with or without pads so we can use them throughout the off-season yet translate well onto the field.  Here are the two best drills that we use and that I believe can improve your teams open field tackling in a short amount of time.  The first I learned from Tyrone Nix when he was at Ole Miss and the second I picked up from a Florida high school coach.

Drill #1:  Tackle Box Drill

There are two lines, each at opposite corners of a 5 x 5 yd box.


One line is made up of the tacklers and one line is made up of the bagmen, or the players holding half-round dummies.

On the whistle, the tackler sprints full speed 5 yards laterally across the box, sticks his foot into the ground outside the box (Diagram 1).

He then redirects back into the box and gets square (Diagram 2).

When the tackler sticks his foot in the ground outside the box, the bag man begins to shuffle laterally across the box (Diagram 2).

When the bag man reaches the middle of the box, he comes straight downhill hard & fast, holding the half-round pad tight to his chest.

At the same time, the tackler has squared himself up and executes an "eyes up, chest up" form tackle on the bagman (Diagram 3).

Neither player goes to the ground, but I am looking for a chest to chest collision of some significance.

After the hit, the players switch lines. After everyone has tackled the lines move across the box and execute the same drill going the other way.

Coaching Points:

  • It incorporates full speed movement with a sharp change of direction
  • All players, regardless of athleticism, can get into position to execute a perfect form chest to chest hit
  • The drill can be done inside or outside, in pads or shorts, all year round
  • This drill does not ask the bagman to be a docile target; for the drill to be effective, he must come hard also, just not wrapping up.

Drill #2: Circle Flag Drill

Start by taking two PE flag football flags (just the flags, not the belt) and have a runner quickly tuck them into his pants.


Create a circle with ropes, paint or hoops that is large enough for the runner to move freely within (Diagram 4).

Align the tackler on one side of the circle and the flagman on the other side.

On the whistle, the tackler must try to take both flags from the runner.

The runner cannot use his hands and he cannot leave the circle, but otherwise he may run & jump & spin as much as he wants.

Coaching Points:

  • It forces the tackler to come to balance and not overextend
  • It forces the tackler to keep leverage under the runner so he can grab the flags
  • It can be done full speed, inside or outside, in pads or shorts, all year round


We are always looking for ways to become better tacklers and we believe that each of these drills puts our guys in a better position to make these crucial plays. We combine these drills with some of the more traditional tackling drills once we get into the season, but lean on them heavily through the off-season since they can be done without pads and helmets. Remember, receivers and backs are now working on getting faster, quicker, and more agile year round, and Offensive Coordinators are practicing schemes to get them in one-on-one match-ups year round, but we only start practicing tackling in August, then we are going to have a problem.


That being said, there in no better time than now to start working on these concepts.  Every playoff team that you will be facing in the coming weeks likely has a few guys that you are going to have to be able to not only catch, but tackle to win the game.  Try out these drills today and see if you can’t clean up your open field tackling heading into the post season.




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