Tackling. When you really get right down to it, tackling could very well be the most basic skill required in football. The game is about controlling the line, and stopping the opposition from advancing. How do you keep the ball from moving down the field? Good tackling, of course. But for some reason, tackling has been a question mark for Syracuse over the past few years. Defensive coordinator Brian Ward is looking to change that.
Enter the Seattle Seahawks. I mean, not literally. They’re not coming to Central New York, don’t be silly.
Specifically, I’m talking about Pete Carroll’s rugby-style tackling techniques, which both promote better fundamentals and limit injury potential. It’s been noted over the last few months that several college programs are paying attention to what the Seahawks are doing, and following suit. As it turns out, Syracuse is one of those schools.
So just what the hell am I talking about, exactly? As a high school coach from the state of New York explained to me earlier today, this new rugby-style technique “can be more fundamentally sound because you’re not going for big hits.” That, obviously, seemed to be the case for Syracuse last year – and in recent years in general. Going for a big hit, and missing, leads to big gains.
“A lot of times you miss the tackle because of that,” this coach said. “When you rugby tackle, you may give the ball carrier an extra yard or two, but it’s a safer and more reliable tackle.”
It’s a technique that’s caught on not just in Seattle, but as I alluded to, other college programs around the country. Washington and Rutgers, for example, are both adopting the rugby-style technique developed by the Seahawks. If you’re still wondering what the heck I’m talking about, check out this video. It’ll do a vastly better job explaining what Syracuse – and other schools – are trying to do, than I ever could:
For Rutgers, the rugby-style tackling is something that new head coach Chris Ash – who you might remember as the other finalist for the Syracuse gig alongside Dino Babers – has been instructing since 2014. That’s when he taught the technique to his players at Ohio State. It seems to have worked out pretty well for them.
As Ash – one of the earliest proponents of this technique at the college level – told NJ.com back in April (the full article is linked in the last paragraph):
“I think (the players) all know that one of the biggest areas of improvement that’s needed on defense is tackling,” Ash said. “There were a lot of yards given up last year because of missed tackles. And that’s not just Rutgers. That’s a lot of defenses. Getting back to 2014 at Ohio State, we did an exhaustive research and study on the most effective way to tackle and the safest way to tackle and we settled on this. And it helped our defense there.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like a lot of the same troubles that have plagued the Syracuse defense over the past few years. Last season, Syracuse was subject to a couple of embarrassing “highlights” that basically amounted to the opposing team scoring thanks in large part to missed tackles. You remember the touchdown scored by Travis Rudolph when the Orange played Florida State last year, no doubt. I mean, as much as you’ve tried to block it out.
The “Hawk Tackle” is here, and the Orange are fully embracing it. Considering how the Orange have sometimes struggled to bring down offensive players, that’s a very good thing. As that same high school coach indicated to me, it’s certainly a beneficial technique for smaller defenders when squaring off against bigger opponents. Syracuse, for all of its potential young talent on defense, is still pretty undersized in the back seven. Any tackling technique that stresses fundamentals and wrapping up over delivering a big hit is fine by me.
The defensive unit is considered by a lot of folks looking at Syracuse this season as one of the potential Achilles heels, as the team takes on an already stacked deck with new offensive and defensive systems as well as one of the most demanding schedules in the country. But with a more effective – not to mention safer – tackling technique being taught by the Syracuse defensive staff, you can likely expect to see fewer missed tackles in the open field this year and moving forward.