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    Default Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

    Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling
    Friday, December 10, 2010
    By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Steelers linebacker James Harrison flew unblocked through the Buffalo Bills' offensive line during a football game on Nov. 28 but reached quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick just after he passed the ball. His momentum forced him to hit Fitzpatrick anyway, and the front of Harrison's helmet smashed into Fitzpatrick's chest as he drove him to the ground.

    A few years ago, that was a textbook tackle. Now, it's a $25,000 fine for Harrison.

    Every level of football is dealing with the ramifications of new information regarding concussions and their causes and effects. The National Football League, in an effort to curb brain-rattling hits and other injuries, increased its enforcement of rules governing hits to the head and leading with the helmet and began fining players who violate those rules. At the center of both issues lies the tackle, the main culprit in recent injuries and fines and yet an irreplaceable part of the game.

    [IMGR]http://i54.tinypic.com/w2loxv.jpg[/IMGR]NFL rules say a dead ball, or the end of a play, occurs when "a runner is contacted by a defensive player and he touches the ground."

    "Tackling is tackling," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "A good solid tackle can only be done one way."

    The size and speed of today's football players and the increased use of the passing game, combined with the new knowledge of the threat concussions pose, are putting more emphasis on tackling. But players learn to tackle before they are taught to tackle: by playing football with friends growing up. Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden honed the skill by wrestling when he was 6. The lesson he learned: low man always wins.

    "You play football in the neighborhood, there was never a proper way to tackle," Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "It was, take the guy down by any means."

    "I don't think I was ever taught to tackle," West Allegheny High School coach Bob Palko said. "We played so much, that was all we did."

    Players were taught the skill at different ages. Harrison learned in organized youth football. Dave Wannstedt, who resigned this week as the University of Pittsburgh's head coach, learned in ninth grade, when he first started playing. Mt. Lebanon High School running back Luke Hagy remembered practicing it in fourth grade. In years past, players were taught to smash their helmet into the opposing player's chest.

    "Put the crown of your head on the numbers," said Cliff Williams, the founder and president of Mon River Pop Warner in Swissvale and a coach in the league, of how he learned to hit.

    That has since changed. Now, at all levels of football, coaches teach players to strike the ball carrier with their shoulder, not the head. The player must bend his ankles, knees and hips and enter the "power position" to get lower than his opponent. Williams called it "step, cock, pop,"; Wannstedt referred to it in drills as "come to balance." The player keeps his head up and brings it across, not into, the ball carrier's body. He hits him with his shoulder, drives his feet and wraps his arms around the ball carrier.

    "You're cutting your ear off, coming across, putting your head across the runner so your head and shoulders are in front of him and you wrap up," Harrison said.

    Williams said he thought the shift, though gradual, took place in the mid-1990s. Woodland Hills High School coach George Novak, who was also taught as a player to ram his helmet into the ball carrier's numbers, said his teaching changed in the late '80s and early '90s.

    "The head is not to be used in any part of tackling," he said.

    The University of North Carolina has taken steps to convert the art of tackling into a science. Beginning in 2004, researchers collected data using accelerometers in the football players' helmets to match powerful collision readings with video of the hits and demonstrate to players the mistakes they made. The system is expensive -- more than $100,000 to outfit a college team -- but coaches can get a similar effect by using video to point out mistakes.

    "Try to isolate, every week, five or six plays from each player, five or six actual tackles or blocks," said Kevin Guskiewicz, the director of the university's department of exercise and sports medicine and a member of the NFL's head, neck and spine committee that met to discuss this issue, among others, this week. "Sit with them and go through and show them what [they're] doing wrong."

    The recent emphasis has been avoiding hitting players, especially defenseless receivers or quarterbacks, high, meaning their head or neck. Hitting them low also causes problems, both for the ball carrier and the tackler.

    "Once you lower your hitting angle and you're squatting down to make sure you're not hitting the guy in the head or chest area, the first thing that's going to hit is your head," Harrison said.

    Woodley said players around the league prefer to be hit high rather than low, around their knees, to avoid serious injury.

    "I'll take a chance of getting knocked out over having my knees blown out," he said.

    What researchers have learned in recent years about concussions -- they're tricky to diagnose, especially harmful to younger players and a serious threat to safety if a player returns before he's fully recovered from one -- has directed more attention to the injury. This season, the NFL started fining players -- upwards of $450,000 total as of this week -- for illegal hits, and in December 2009 the league updated its return-to-play policy, which mandated that an independent neurologist must declare a player healthy before he returns. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Federation of High School Sports and Pop Warner all updated their concussion policies in similar fashion this year.

    "Fortunately players are being fined and suspended for those [big hits], so I hope that will be a deterrent," said Guskiewicz, an athletic trainer for the Steelers during the Chuck Noll years. "That's certainly a first step."

    None of those measures, however, removed the tackle from football, and as long as people hit each other injuries will happen.

    "You take concussions seriously," Woodley said. "You don't want to hit a guy helmet-to-helmet, but sometimes it just happens.

    "You don't try to grab somebody by the face mask and pull it. You don't try to go out there and just hurt somebody. It's a physical game."

    However, offensive changes may have made football more dangerous. In 1975, NFL teams averaged 27 passes per game; this season, they average 34.

    "I think you're going to get more collision plays because of the passing game, the way the quarterbacks are throwing the ball," LeBeau said.

    The big hits come when a receiver can't see the defender coming or when a quarterback isn't looking at a pass rusher. Hagy said the biggest hit he ever took came when he caught a pass against Upper St. Clair and a defender immediately hit him helmet-to-helmet.

    "It didn't hurt, so much -- it hurt so much that you really didn't feel it," Hagy said. "Afterwards I was, I wouldn't say out of it, but a little dizzy."

    Slowly but surely the tackling culture is changing.

    LeBeau said the Steelers aim for the bottom of the numbers and preach leading with the shoulder. When he was younger, Novak said, he personally demonstrated the proper technique to his players. Now he teaches his assistant coaches and they train the team. Pop Warner puts head coaches through a mandatory certification process that includes tackling training, as well as concussion awareness training. Wannstedt said Pitt practiced tackling fundamentals every day. Novak, Hagy and Palko said their teams do not generally tackle in practice, but use drills to practice making a safe and effective tackle.

    And Sunday night, Harrison reached Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco too late for the sack. His momentum forced him to make the tackle anyway, and Harrison slid his head to the left of Flacco's waist, wrapped him up and slammed him down. A textbook hit, from the pages of a new volume.

    http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10344/1109646-66.stm
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    Default Re: Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

    Those pictures are of textbook tackles. Problem is that the league doesn't quite know how to go about what it wants to do. What it should be focusing on are the hits that Brandon Merriwether laid on Todd Heap and the one on Heath. Harrison doesn't even belong in the conversation.
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    Default Re: Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

    Quote Originally Posted by Steelreign View Post
    This quote is hidden because you are ignoring this member. Show Quote
    Those pictures are of textbook tackles.
    Apparently they are not... One drew a flag where the other did not...
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    Default Re: Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

    Players still confused about illegal hits

    Associated Press
    Updated: December 10, 2010


    Seven weeks after the NFL's crackdown on illegal hits, players remain confused about what they can and can't do. The league says there should be no such uncertainty.

    Many players questioned by The Associated Press over the past week believe there's a lack of consistency in calls; don't understand the disciplinary process through which fines are handed out; say the punishments often don't fit the crime; and even suggest some players are being targeted by game officials and the NFL.

    NFL senior vice president of football operations Ray Anderson replied that the process is clear and transparent, and any favoritism "is not something we would tolerate or condone."

    The AP talked to three dozen players across the league about a variety of topics related to the NFL's move to ramp up punishment for flagrant fouls ever since Oct. 17, when three such instances resulted in hefty fines and the threat of suspension. Most players surveyed believe the league is likely to suspend a player for an egregious hit at some point.



    Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard, right, was fined $40,000 for unnecessary roughness on Tennessee's Justin Gage, just one of many fines for hits deemed illegal by the NFL this season.
    But they aren't sure what an egregious hit is.

    "I think they're inconsistent," said Saints defensive end Will Smith, an assistant player representative to the NFL Players Association. "You see a guy get punched in the face and get fined $25,000 and not suspended, but then you see a guy mush a guy with a helmet on and get fined the exact same thing. So I think the NFL will have to clear up the way they're fining because they're not really fair."

    Added Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year:

    "It's hard to just change something overnight, something you've been taught for so long. To me, it seems like ... a guy gets hit and they're going off the outcome of the play. If a guy ends up hurt or seems a little out of it, woozy or whatever, then all of a sudden it's a personal foul and a $50,000 or $75,000 fine or whatever it is.

    "I know it's not the intent of every player to go out and knock a player out. Your job is to go get the ball and try to get the ball out if you can. I think they're taking that away from guys."

    The league is taking away lots of money from players, with fines climbing to $40,000 or more for flagrant fouls. Last week, Texans safety Bernard Pollard was docked $40,000 for unnecessary roughness against Justin Gage of the Titans.

    Anderson said every player in the NFL is capable of adjusting to the way the league wants games played -- and always has wanted them played.

    "Very frankly, I think every player at this level is so skillful and intelligent that if they want to adapt, they can and will adapt," Anderson said. "I'm not concerned we have any players, including ones with repeat violations, who can't adapt. If they want to adapt, they can, and there are examples of that."

    Indeed, NFL owners will be shown a video next week at their meetings in Dallas that features clean hits in games played since the crackdown on flagrant fouls. Anderson said the video "clearly shows players making adjustments" and that some former rule-breakers "have gotten the message" when it comes to hitting defenseless players.

    But the message many on the field seem to have gotten is muddled. They cite a video sent to the 32 teams and narrated by Anderson that displays legal and illegal tackles, saying it cleared up nothing.

    Jets safety Eric Smith was suspended for one game in 2008 for launching himself into Anquan Boldin, then with the Cardinals, in the end zone. So Smith should be clear on what's a violation and what's acceptable.

    He isn't.

    "What we understand is leading with the crown of the head, which we've always known [is illegal]," he said. "We have no idea what's a defenseless receiver or player.

    "Sometimes on a helmet-to-helmet hit, they've got to understand that your shoulders are next to your head and it's hard to keep the helmet out of it when someone moves as you are making the hit. And you're going so fast and usually at an angle."

    That's another issue for players: the speed of the game versus the speed at which the tackles are being reviewed by Anderson, his assistant Merton Hanks, and director of officiating Carl Johnson.

    "It's not as easy for us to play the game. We don't play the game with a remote in our hand, to be able to rewind and slow down," said Broncos veteran safety Brian Dawkins, one of the hardest hitters in football. "The game has never been played like that. It will never be played like that. There will always be huge collisions, there will always be things that are going to happen split-second. It's just one of those things, a part of the game. It's a physical, in-your-face sport."

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=5906764

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