Red­skins strug­gle to teach tack­ling with­out tack­ling.

Un­der new rules, Red­skins teach tack­ling with­out tack­ling

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY NORA PRINCIOTTI

RICH­MOND | When Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den was in col­lege, his coach would make him run live tack­ling drills, even as a quar­ter­back. Gru­den still has the man­gled fin­gers to prove it.

Times have changed, and two-aday full con­tact ses­sions are a thing of train­ing camps past. The Red­skins are prac­tic­ing in pads now, but they’re not tack­ling live, like they would in a game. Prac­tices are safer as a re­sult, but coaches are faced with a ques­tion: how do you teach tack­ling when you can’t tackle?

“That’s a dilemma that we have,” Gru­den said “How much live con­tact you want to do, and then when you are in pads, what do you tell them to do with the run­ning back when he comes through the hole?”

For the most part, the an­swer is to let him go (one rea­son to take big runs dur­ing camp with a grain of salt). Play­ers mostly just tag up, run­ning full speed for as long as they can while still know­ing they can pull up at the last sec­ond.

“I think the big thing is get­ting them­selves in po­si­tion, fight­ing off blocks,” Gru­den said. “We’re talk­ing about fun­da­men­tal foot­work and pad level. That’s the most im­por­tant thing for the of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive lines es­pe­cially. Lineback­ers re­ally get­ting off blocks, run­ning to the foot­ball and then tag­ging off the best way we can. And then of course the same thing with safeties, they have to get in good body po­si­tion.”

It’s not quite the real thing. It’s a coach’s night­mare to get to the reg­u­lar sea­son and re­al­ize that a player can’t wrap up or gets shy of real con­tact. But the thought of los­ing play­ers in July or Au­gust is even worse.

“I don’t like to do a whole lot of live

tack­ling be­cause I would never for­give my­self if I lost a good player or any player for that mat­ter over a tack­ling drill,” Gru­den said.

Gru­den said bad tack­lers usu­ally don’t make it to the NFL, any­way, which di­min­ishes the is­sue. Ev­ery­one can stand to get bet­ter, though, and many Red­skins could, es­pe­cially.

Washington’s de­fense was the third­worst in the league in yards af­ter the catch (YAC) al­lowed in 2016. In an aver­age game, op­po­nents gained 130.9 yards that way. That doesn’t hap­pen with­out a bevy of missed tack­les.

The Red­skins will do drills with dum­mies and mats, and have a few prac­tice pe­ri­ods with live tack­ling. Other than that, they’ll mostly rely on the four pre­sea­son games to get a sense of how well play­ers are tack­ling when it counts.

That doesn’t mean that prac­tice time is a lost cause when it comes to bet­ter­ing play­ers’ skills in this area. Safety D.J. Swearinger said that, for him, it’s all about fo­cus­ing on his an­gle to the ball. He’ll even run at play­ers who aren’t his re­spon­si­bil­ity dur­ing prac­tice, just to get ex­tra reps.

“Sprint to the ball,” Swearinger said. “You see the ball caught, you see peo­ple pass­ing by and do­ing their tack­les, you’ve still got to get your sprint to the ball even if you see the guy is tack­led. You’ve still got to work, run to the ball and get your an­gle that way.”

Line­backer Will Comp­ton said prac­tice al­lows him to hone in on his tech­nique be­cause the phys­i­cal­ity of tack­ling is taken out of the equa­tion. Most foot­ball play­ers don’t need to prac­tice be­ing strong, af­ter all.

“It’s all about, when you have pads on but you don’t even have the bot­toms on and you’re not go­ing live, it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter to work on those fun­da­men­tals as well as wrap­ping and thud­ding and stuff be­cause you’re not leav­ing your feet,” Comp­ton said. “You’re try­ing to run your feet, use your feet more than reach or lunge or any­thing like that.”

Along with the No. 1 prob­lem of mak­ing sure play­ers are pre­pared, coaches also have to man­age a sort of foot­ball pris­oner’s dilemma. Play­ers fight­ing to make the ros­ter can be tempted to play a lit­tle rough in or­der to stand out. If ev­ery­one does so, though, prac­tices will be too rough and dan­ger­ous.

“We had a cou­ple is­sues the other day where guys were get­ting a lit­tle bit too phys­i­cal with our backs, stick­ing their face in there,” Gru­den said.

Line­backer Chris Carter, who is go­ing through his sev­enth NFL train­ing camp with his fifth team, said that, across the NFL, veter­ans re­mind rook­ies that they don’t get ex­tra points for show­ing off in train­ing camp when it might in­jure a team­mate.

“We teach the rook­ies that, look, we don’t want to hurt each other,” Carter said. “We’re on the same team, we want to win a Su­per Bowl to­gether so we need ev­ery­body.

“You know, at the end of the day, man, I’m sure your fam­ily cares about you the same way my fam­ily cares about me and we don’t want to see you out here in a wheel­chair.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Washington Red­skins de­fen­sive end Brandon Banks (left) and de­fen­sive tackle Matthew Ioan­ni­dis prac­tice their box­ing moves on Wed­nes­day at train­ing camp in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia. With NFL rules not al­low­ing tack­ling in prac­tice, the Red­skins work on fun­da­men­tal foot­work and pad level, get­ting off the blocks and tag­ging their op­po­nent.

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