By William Mitchell
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 & 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.