Tackling In The Spotlight For WVU
The regression in tackling skills in football has been blamed on several factors, including the lessening of full contact practices and new rules that have reduced the trepidation offensive players sometimes felt while exposing themselves to big hits. While the latter was certainly necessary, the net result is that tackling has suffered. Also in play in that regard is the highlight-driven nature of today’s coverage, which focuses on offense and big plays. The greatest tacklers in the game are rarely mentioned, other than the occasional mention when they pile up big numbers. That factor also leads to more talented players gravitating to the offensive side of the ball.
Another contributor is the progression of the game in today’s space-oriented chess match, which has at its core the goal of creating one-on-one match-ups in the open field. In such instances, the advantage is with the offensive player, who often has room to make moves in either direction with the defensive player has to react. When the ballcarrier is one that also has a knack for breaking contact, the scales tip further in his favor.
Put questions about tackling to two West Virginia’s surer defenders in that aspect of the game, though, and they offer no excuses. Linebacker David Long, who has 61 stops this year and 202 in his career, certainly knows how to bring opponents to the ground. While not pinpointing any specific causes for the 31 missed tackles defensive coordinator Tony Gibson counted against Iowa State, he noted several fixes that were worked on in practice since that contest.
“I hope it was just a one game glitch. But we work on tackling every practice,” said the redshirt junior, who has 202 career tackles at WVU. “Tackling angles, tackling in open space. That is something that we have to get better at. When you are out there in the open you have to make a play. Help might not be close.”
Long is a beacon in that regard. With 40 solo stops this year — almost double the next highest number on the WVU defense — and 103 in his career, it’s rare when he doesn’t make the plays he mentions. Still, he, along with every defender, has to be able to put practice drills, which mimic but don’t replicate the live action during games, into effect.
While WVU does indeed work on tackling every day, much of that doesn’t come in the form of live scrimmaging. The aforementioned limits on contact, plus the need to keep players as healthy as possible, has resulted in an evolution of practicing the art. There are various drills which each position group goes through, including hitting tackling dummies and pads, in order to hone proper technique. Eyes up, see what you hit, head to the side, wrap up, drive through the opponent. Those basics are hoped to be ingrained so that they are second nature and occur every time a tackle attempt is made, but without question there’s a difference when the opponent can change direction and deliver his own blows to fend off the attempts. There are a handful of live 11-on-11 periods, but those don’t nearly approach the number that were held ten years ago.
Spur Dravon Askew-Henry acknowledges that the opposition also makes a difference. Iowa State running back David Montgomery, acknowledged as a player who routinely sheds tackles, did just that on multiple occasions against the Mountaineers. He rushed for 189 yards on 29 carries, and while he was fresh after sitting out the prior week’s game, that didn’t factor in to Askew-Henry’s assessment.
“There aren’t too many backs out there like him, but that’s no excuse,” said the senior safety, who has 24 stops on the season. “[Tackling] is something that we could all do better, get to the ball with bad intentions. I feel like we didn’t do a job of that in the last game. We really emphasized that this week. We did a lot of tackling drills this week to be prepared.”