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Drills Report: Running and Tackling Drills - A Twist for TNT Drillsby: Brian Bubna
Defensive Coordinator, MIT
© December 2014
Similar to other teams, we spend time each week working on tackling and turnover (TNT) drills. In the past, we typically felt satisfied at the conclusion of each TNT drill as our defense seemed to grasp the fundamentals of tackling and forcing turnovers. However, when we reached game day and even team practice scenarios, our drills did not seem to translate to the field. Often, we missed tackles (especially in open-field situations) and our players suddenly lacked focus when it came to forcing turnovers.
After a few close losses, our defensive staff came to the realization that our defense was not finishing with the same tackling fundamentals that we began the game with. Our practice style needed to change. Our focus immediately went to more tackling in practice.
Unfortunately, with roster numbers in the 80s, a large amount of tackling over the course of weekly practice would have a negative impact on our overall team health. After further examination, our defensive staff determined that most of our missed tackles occurred in open-field situations and often in the later stages of games.
Since most of our defensive players are also mainstays on our special teams, it became apparent that our core group was being highly used. A simple solution would have been to remove certain players from special teams in order for them to conserve energy. This solution was not viable because of the obvious weakening of our special teams.
Our solution was to simulate the numerous open field tackling situations that our players face each week by expanding the area in which they had to tackle and by adding an element of fatigue. Instead of TNT drills we termed our twist as RNT Drills or Running and Tackling Drills.
With the spread offense, players often make contact with the ball carrier after some pursuit as opposed to playing downhill and making contact in the hole between the tackles. Many open field tackles happen in what I consider to be ‘unsettled situations’ where a player has left his stance and is in a pursuit position. Defenders are no longer square to the line of scrimmage and the ball carrier. This is different than how we were teaching and practicing tackling.
We felt the addition of running and conditioning to our tackling drills would better simulate playing against spread offenses and help our defense finish in the later stages of the game. With improved conditioning and tackling, we felt our players would now be in a better mental state to focus on making plays on the ball and forcing turnovers.
Our new approach to TNT Drills also separated our DL from the LBs/DBs in order to better focus our drills. Allowing the DL to work as a unit gave them the ability to tailor their drills to better fit how they force turnovers and tackle.
To implement our new approach, we divided our LBs and DBs into two groups, one on each sideline. Our 15 minute running and tackling period would consist of the following segments:
Each sideline features different drills. I will describe two drills which may be familiar to you except for a small twist. The first drill is what we call our Box Tackling Drill. We begin by making a box 10 yards long by 10 yards wide with cones. A ball carrier will start in one corner of the box while a tackler will start on the same side of the box but at the top cone 10 yards away. On the coaches whistle, the tackler will sprint to another cone 10 yards away and back to start the drill.
Once the tackler reaches the top of the box, the ball carrier is now free to run. He must attempt to make it to the opposite corner of the box while the tackler must play inside out and make the tackle. If the tackler over pursues and allows a cutback, the ball carrier may plant and cut toward the other corner cone. The ball carrier and tackler must stay within the box during the drill. If the ball carrier reaches either cone, they win the drill. If the tackler is able to use proper technique and stop the momentum of the ball carrier, he wins (Diagram 2).
This drill features a triangle with 10-yard long sides. A ball carrier will start at the top of the triangle while a tackler will start opposite him between the two corners of the triangle. On the coach’s whistle, the tackler will sprint in a circle around the hoop and back to his starting position. Once the tackler completes the circle, the ball carrier is free to break toward either corner of the triangle.
The momentum of the tackler running the hoop can often influence him in one direction. This can sometimes aid the tackler or force him to stop, plant his foot and change direction based on the ball carrier. In either case, it is similar to game-like open field tackling situations (Diagram 3).
Coaching points for each drill are similar.
It is important to communicate to your players that the added running in these segments is not a form of punishment but rather an additional obstacle of fatigue that will be faced during a game. Explaining your new approach to drills can help to transition the mind set of your players and result in a quicker embrace of change.
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