Designing Tackling Systems – Case 1: Developing Your Tackling System

Aug 10, 2017 | Tackling, Defense, Fundamentals

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



In recent years, tackling has shifted more into a science than a fundamental. As evidenced by various methodologies (the Seattle Seahawk Tackling progression and Heads Up Football) have strived to take the head out of tackling, coaches are continuously trying to find methods to both help their players become more efficient tacklers and protect them from injury.

When conducting our initial research on this topic, we struggled with our focus. We wanted to provide our coaches with answers (mainly in the form of drill work) to correct the most problematic issues their players were having in tackling, such as keeping the head up, driving through the tackle, keeping proper leverage, etc. However, as we started the interview process with our contributors, we found that there was a pocket of coaches who have developed their own “tackling system” to fit the needs of their players and the circumstances in which these tackles are made. So rather than rollout a drill catalog of 100+ random tackling drills (many of which can be considered to be outdated), we wanted to provide coaches with a framework of a system that helps them create and develop the drill work which reinforces the proper tackling techniques and helps their defenders fix the most common errors in tackling. We’ve found that your system can be established in the following ways:

  • Studying each opponents’ offensive system to assess which types of tackling situations your defenders may be involved in. This has a lot to do with the personnel of your opponent. For example, are they based in spread sets where open field tackling may be more inherent or are they more heavily grounded in 12, 22 personnel based as an inside the box run team?
  • Studying opponents’ offensive personnel to assess which kinds of tackling situations you believe your defenders will encounter during the season. This can be done by reviewing prior game film from other opponents.
  • Studying your own personnel to evaluate which types of tackles (either based on scenarios or fundamentals) they are missing and take corrective actions to fix these problems.

In case one, we present a series of questions that we geared to our contributors which focus specifically on which elements they use to develop their system, how they identify either scenario based of fundamental based tackling errors and how much in-season practice time is devoted to correcting these tackling issues. Below is a key of the coaches that contributed to this study:

Contributor Key (in Alphabetical Order):

Joey Didier (JD): Defensive Coordinator, University of St. Francis (IN)

Vincent DiGaetano (VD): Defensive Analyst, Wagner University (NY)

Matt Entz (ME): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota State University

Chris Kappas (CK): Defensive Coordinator, Mount Union University (OH)

Jamie Marshall (JM): Defensive Line Coach, Lindenwood University (MO)

Matt McLagan (MM): Defensive Coordinator, Northern State University (SD)

Jay Niemann (JN): Defensive Coordinator, Rutgers University

Mike Siravo (MS): Defensive Coordinator, Temple University

Eric Schmidt (ES): Defensive Coordinator, North Dakota University


Why is it important to have a “tackling system,” rather than a series of drills in teaching tackling to your players?

JD: “Tackling is the cornerstone of defensive football. There is no schematic answer to your players not being able to bring down an opponent’s ball carrier. Having a tackling system is important for three reasons: 

1: It creates teaching consistency among your defensive staff. 

2: It carries over to all positions and can be applied to all situations.   

3: It creates focus and buy-in with your players as to why tackling will help them be successful, and most importantly keep them safe.”

VG: “Three reasons I believe:

1: Develops common language among players and coaches.

2: It allows for drill work to focus on different segments of tackling consistent with system.