On the way to work this morning, I was listening to Mike and Mike in the morning on ESPN Radio. They had former NFL player Marcelus Wiley on talking about the new stricter enforcement of the helmet to helmet shots. He was followed by Ron Jaworksi, who is the first former player I’ve heard who has addressed this issue honestly.
All the other players, including Wiley and Mike Golic, have insisted the players are only tackling the way they were taught. They complain that to expect them to change now is unfair and impossible. They imply the game will be changed for the worse.
But Jaworski revealed this to be a fallacy. In watching game film this week, he explained, he had not seen much form tackling — that is: facemask to chest, driving forward, and wrapping arms around the ball carrier. If the players were doing this, that would be the proper technique and I believe there would be fewer instances of hard, helmet to helmet contact. If you want to see a clinic on proper form tackling, watch this highlight video of Dick Butkus.*
Prior to Jaworski’s comments, Wiley had inadvertently revealed why proper tackling technique is no longer common. He said there is no time to practice tackling during workouts. His question was how can we expect the players to change technique when they don’t practice? My question is how can expect them to have proper technique if they don’t practice?
Instead, these gifted athletes make up for lack of technique with athleticism, hurling themselves at ball carriers like missiles. That’s the heart of the problem.
*I’m not contending Butkus was always a clean player, and I’m not saying he didn’t intentionally launch himself at opponents from time to time. But look at most of these tackles, the way he sticks his face into the ball carrier’s chest, wraps his arms around him, and drives. That’s how tackling should be done. (I’m not blind to the fact that this video from NFL Films celebrates the type of violent collision the League is now trying to distance itself from, but that’s not the issue I’m addressing here.)
Update: I’m overwhelmed by the comments. Thank you!
As commentors have pointed out, there are other factors involved in this issue. The purpose of my post is just to highlight one of them — one that few pundits and players have been willing to acknowledge.
BTW, poor tackling technique has another consequence on the game, namely that there are too many missed tackles. My father was a long-time football coach. He’s been complaining for years that pros do not know how to tackle anymore. Just watch how often defenders throw themselves at the ball carrier only to be shaken off, side-stepped or stiff-armed out of the picture and with little impact on the runner. It happens too often.