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Old 12-10-2010, 06:28 AM   #1
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Default Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling
Friday, December 10, 2010

Steelers linebacker James Harrison was fined by the NFL for this tackle of Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi earlier this season, because he launched his body and led with his head while Massaquoi was in a prone position.

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.

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, ****, 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.
Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1158.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10344...#ixzz17i9tkm2t
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Old 12-10-2010, 02:58 PM   #2
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Default Re: Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

One word: WEAK.....they are trying to change the sport at a fundamental level to make it more palatable/marketable for wives and to protect the NFL from litigation. It has nothing to do with caring about the players' safety. As with most things, it is about $$$$.
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Old 12-10-2010, 05:34 PM   #3
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Default Re: Tackling the issue of 'proper' tackling

That's what happens when you let lawyers and people who never played any type of sports run a sport! They screw it up....
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