I’ve never played organized football, which is why — though I like to write about the sport — I tend to steer the conversation away from in-game strategy and towards things I understand: statistics, technology, philosophy of sports, murder mysteries, English literature, word games, and so on.
But I’m still interested in reading about the game from the perspective of the people who play it — even when those accounts appear on Bleacher Report — which is how I found my way to Ryan Riddle’s syndicated column. Unlike me, Riddle’s played in the NFL* — he was drafted by Oakland, and went on to play for the Jets, Falcons, and Raiders — and that qualifies him to provide an insider’s perspective. But that doesn’t mean he has all the answers.
*After recently drawing a comparison between Russell Wilson and Harry Potter, and further noting that today is the latter’s birthday, I just have to point out that Riddle shares a last name with He Who Shall Not Be Named.
In a recent installment of his column, Dispelling the Greatest Myths Surrounding NFL Training Camps, Riddle listed five misconceptions about the recently-begun NFL training camps. One myth in particular caught my eye, and I wrote this post with the intention of offering a solution to the obvious problem it presents. I’m just going to excerpt that fifth of a column in its entirety for the sake of completeness:
This is the Time for Guys to Become Better Tacklers
Truth be told, there’s only a few opportunities in training camp for defenders to tackle anyone at full speed. Nearly every drill of every practice throughout the summer is done at “thud tempo.” This means defenders are not allowed to leave their feet or take the ball-carrier down in any way. The only permissible contact allowed is a light bump or “thud” with the shoulder pad as the runner continues to past you, hence the name “thud tempo.”
The only real chance a guy has to work on his tackling skills comes in the preseason games. The problem is in-game moments to make a tackle are typically limited to a quarter of action, if that. Such time constraints tend to limit tackling opportunities to perhaps a few times a contest.
This may help explain why NFL defenders are surprisingly poor tacklers. In fact, this phenomenon only appears to be getting worse.
It seems odd that training camps around the league would neglect such a fundamental aspect of the sport. It appears that the fear of injuries to key players significantly overrides any desire to become a team equipped with technically sound tacklers.
So, the next time you hear about an NFL team focusing on tackling in training camp, ask yourself whether or not this focus involves taking a player to the ground with any regularity and the answer is almost guaranteed to be a resounding “no.”
Tackling in an NFL practice is a rare event, limited to only a few drills throughout the course of a summer. This is hardly an adequate amount of repetitions for anyone to shake off the rust of an offseason without pads, let alone improve upon a critical point of emphasis.
On one level, the risk aversion makes some sense. We’re less than a week into training camp, and already Jason Phillips, Jeremy Maclin, Turk McBride, Dennis Pitta, Dan Koppen, Percy Harvin, Keenan Robinson, Armon Binns, Aaron Berry, Tyrone Crawford, and Jonas Mouton have gone down and are expected to miss significant time, if not the entire 2013-14 season.
These training camp injuries hardly all came as the direct result of hard-hitting tacklers, but if this is what we see before most players even start wearing pads, the concern is understandable. There’s no sense putting your expensive and fragile wide receivers into the line of fire and allowing them to acquire more bumps and bruises than absolutely necessary over the course of the already-grueling 16+-game schedule.
Moreover, concussions pose a growing threat to the game, underlined by the headline that recently-drafted Ryan Swope recently retired as the result of repeated blows to the brain box.
Which is why I propose letting NFL players practice their technique on the fans instead. Already, thousands of them come out to watch [we talkin about] practices just for the opportunity to scream for their favorite players and beg them for autographs. Now imagine letting them participate. If Terry Tate’s officemates could put up with his unexpected punishment, letting select fans onto the practice field could be nothing but a wonderful idea. Sure, a sizable majority probably has no interest in being pancaked by Kam Chancellor: