Coach and Athletic Director
Dynamic Drills To Improve Your Team's Tackling
By Cary Harger, Football Coach, Oakridge High School, Muskegon, Mich.
In the last few years, we have incorporated these tackling-technique drills into our practices twice a week, every week. These drills stress the fundamentals of tackling, which help develop better tacklers…and, ultimately, gives your defenders confidence in their individual abilities.
The team is divided into four groups of eight players in each group. There are five drills to complete. After one to two minutes, depending on the size of each group, players rotate to the next tackling station on the field. These drills are all based on techniques of safe, proper-tackling progressions.
During these drills, stress proper tackling fundamentals such as:
✗ Eyes on the ball.
✗ Feet shoulder-width apart.
✗ Proper angles in the knees and ankles.
✗ Chest out with arms ready to wrap about the ball carrier.
✗ Feet continue to run through the ball carrier.
All the action of the Kick-Off Drill takes place between five yards of the field.
DIAGRAM 1: Kick-Off Drill. Players are divided into two groups, the tacklers (X) and the ball carriers (RB). The coach (C) is more involved in this drill because he is on a knee holding the blocking shield at the middle of the drill between the tackler and ball carrier. The ball carrier starts running across the field toward the coach’s back. The tackler reacts and starts running to the coach holding the shield. As the tackler approaches the shield, he breaks down into a good football position eyeing the ball carrier.
The coach holds the shield out at the tackler. As the ball carrier cuts either right or left off the coach’s back, the tackler, using his hands to deflect the shield, moves to attack the ball carrier using proper tackling technique while keeping his feet moving and wrapping up the ball carrier. The players then switch roles.
This drill involves arranging four cones in a diamond shape. At opposite corners, the group is divided into tacklers (X) and ball carriers (RB).
DIAGRAM 2: Angle-Tackling Drill. The ball carrier quickly decides which way he is going and places the ball in his outside arm away from the tackler. The tackler reacts and takes the angle to intercept the ball carrier. As he approaches the ball carrier, the tackler assumes the proper tackling position.
The coach, standing near the ball-carrier line, watches each tackler’s technique to commend or correct every player. Have every player switch lines to run through each position once.
Tackling Sled & Directional Takedown
The drill consists of a right- and left-shoulder tackles after a short run at the tackling sled.
DIAGRAM 3: Tackling Sled & Directional Takedown. The coach positions himself to the side of the tackling sled. The tackler works to maintain proper tackling position during the short run to the tackling dummy. The goal is to hit the dummy with the proper technique and be as forceful as possible.
As the dummy is hit and wrapped, the tackler tries to take it to the ground toward the shoulder making the contact. The wrap is not released and the feet do not stop until the dummy is on the ground. Each player makes a tackle using each shoulder.
Space six cones a couple feet apart. Divide the group that rotates to this station into two smaller groups, ball carriers and tacklers.
DIAGRAM 4: Mirror-Tackling Drill. The ball carrier holds a football in his outside arm away from the tackler. The tacklers are positioned on one side of the cones while the ball carriers are on the other. The coach stands at the end behind the path of the ball carrier. The ball carrier faces down the line of cones while the tackler is in a low football position facing the ball carrier.
The ball carrier starts jogging down the line of cones, cuts into an alley between the cones and squares himself up the field. At the same time, the tackler shuffles with the ball carrier, mirrors him and keeps his eyes on the ball carrier’s body. As the ball carrier turns up the field, the tackler attacks the ball carrier with proper tackling technique. The tackler keeps the hips low, feet wide, and the chest and eyes up. The tackler needs to fill the alley and continue moving his feet after the wrap on the ball carrier. We want the tackler to move the ball carrier back to where he started his cut but not take him to the ground.
Each player in line performs the same sequence. After every player goes in one direction, have them come back going the opposite way but keeping the same roles. If there is enough time, switch the lines, so the players get a chance to be in the other role.
To add a wrinkle to this drill, place the ball carrier line back a couple yards and in the middle of the line of cones. The tackler line mirrors the ball carrier line on the opposite side of the cones, in the middle, back a few yards. The ball carrier approaches the alley he is going to run through and squares upfield. The tackler, from the opposite side, mirrors and attacks the same alley, and performs the techniques as described above.
This drill uses the 12th defender — the sideline. In this drill, place two cones 5 yards apart along the sideline. A third cone is placed 5 yards from the sideline. The coach stands by the third cone to commend or correct each player. The players at the station are separated into ball carriers and tacklers.
DIAGRAM 5: Sideline-Tackling Drill. The ball carrier runs toward the sideline between the coach’s cone and the near cone on the sideline. At the same time, the tackler runs toward the ball carrier between the coach’s cone and his near sideline cone. Each player must stay within the cones.
The tackler keeps his focus on the ball carrier’s (closer to the field) hip and shoulder, so to keep him squeezed to the sideline and not to let him escape back to the field.
As the ball carrier turns up the field along the sideline, the tackler begins to break down into a proper tackling position. The tackler wraps up the ball carrier for the tackle or drives him out of bounds.