By Travis Niekamp • Linebackers Coach • University of Louisiana at Monroe
Without question, the most important fundamental for any defensive position is tackling. It may also be the most overlooked and poorly coached fundamental. It is vital that your athletes know what it takes to be a good tackler. Good tacklers lead with the chest, drive the back leg on contact and wrap up.
Your players need to understand that leading with the head or hands is a no-no. Allowing your athletes to “tag off” on the hip – or lead with the hands – during practice is promoting poor tackling.
You must not only teach tackling during your individual period, but throughout the course of practice, games and especially in film sessions.Remember, all great defenses are great tacklers. You will get what you emphasize!
How we teach
Focus on leading with the chest. We want to get our chest on their chest. Another big emphasis is on driving the back leg through the ball carrier. By doing this, we are eliminating the biggest culprit for missed tackles and that is stopping the feet. You must teach athletes their angle of attack and why they should be attacking the ball carrier (inside-out/outside-in).
You and your athletes must understand that the proper angle of attack is just as important as the tackle.
Drill 1: Angle Tackle
In a short, confined area, focus on leading with the a chest and driving the back leg. We start with a walk, because it teaches angle. Move to a jog, which builds confidence, then go full speed. Linebackers and ball carriers are approximately 5 yards apart from each other. The ball carrier can go either to his right or left. The linebacker matches footwork and proper angle of attack to the football (See Diagram 1).
Drill 2: Inside-Out
The Inside-Out drill is similar to the Angle Tackle drill, but adds more focus on the proper angle of attack at a fast, game-like speed. It also adds the knowledge of force for sideline defenders, and the understanding that the cones are the linebacker’s help.
Ball carriers align approximately 10 yards away from linebackers. There are force defenders (cones, markers) to distinguish the space of the drill and bags aligned 8 yards apart to represent a dead zone. The ball carrier will attack either his right or left and has the freedom to work any escape move or cut to avoid the linebacker.
The linebacker must match footwork and proper attack inside-out to the football. The linebacker can’t allow the ball to “cut back” across his face (See Diagram 2).
It has also been ingrained in me as a young football player and young coach that “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Focus on fundamentals within the structure of your defense. Poor fundamentals mean that your defense will suffer, regardless of your scheme.