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December 2014

December 2014


Drills Report: Running and Tackling Drills - A Twist for TNT Drills

by: Brian Bubna
Defensive Coordinator, MIT
© December 2014

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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:

2.5 mins. – Running: Sprints from one sideline to the other and back.  Players finish on the same sideline as they began.

5 mins. – Tackling:  2 drills, 1 being run on each sideline.

2.5 mins. -  Running: Sprints from one sideline to the other and back.  Players finish on opposite sideline as they began so they participate in both drills. 

5 mins. – Tackling:  Same 2 drills as the first segment. Players should now be participating in the opposite drill (Diagram 1).



We begin our 15 minute RNT period with three minutes of running. My group would start on the visiting sideline while the other group would start with our secondary coaches on the home sideline. On the whistle, both groups would sprint to the opposite sideline and back. After 2 and 1/2 minutes they would finish running and we would begin our drill. 

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).  



The second drill is the Circle Tackle Drill.  Similar to having defensive linemen run hoops or figures eights to improve pass rush we begin our drill by having our tackler sprint around a hoop. The hoop can be created using cones, with PVC piping or by using the lacrosse goal crease if your school has a lacrosse program. 

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. 

Points of emphasis for the tackler:

•  The tackler must sink his hips and knees once he completes his sprint.

•  The tackler must close ground on the ball carrier by taking short shimmy steps.

•  The tackler must play the ball carrier ‘inside out’ to prevent a cutback.

•  Tacklers should learn how to close ground while maintaining inside leverage on the ball carrier to prevent cutbacks.

•  The tackler must get his head across the ball carrier and drive him backward or lateral to prevent further yardage.

•  Tacklers should learn how to use the sideline as an outside force.

Points of emphasis for the drills:

•  These drills are meant to simulate open field tackling.

•  We do not tackle ‘live’ to the ground during these drills; the coaches are responsible for blowing the whistle to ensure safety.

•  Try to pair players with someone who can challenge them from a speed perspective. Do not have your slower players tackle other slow players.

During the initial implementation of these drills, bad tackling habits and common mistakes will become very apparent. One common mistake is for tacklers to try to continue their sprint into the tackling phase of the drill. It is very important to emphasize that tacklers sink their hips and knees and prepare to tackle as opposed to opting for a big hit. Missed tackles in the open field account for large gains for the offense. 

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.

About the Author: Brian Bubna just completed his fifth season on the staff of MIT, serving as both defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator. He became defensive coordinator in 2012. Bubna previously coached at Maine Maritime Academy and is a graduate of Hobart College where he was a four-year letterman.

 









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