By Chris Metzger
First and foremost it is a honor to represent Pinecrest High School and our football program, specifically our Defensive Coordinator Assistant Head Coach Antwon Murchison and the rest of our defensive staff. These men are outstanding human beings who do a great job of preparing our young men for the contest in between the white lines but more importantly the game of life.
When our staff arrived at Pinecrest in March of 2007 we made a commitment to a two-platoon system so that we could boost the numbers in the program. We made a very intentional effort from Day 1 to put the best players on defense. That is not to say that we have not had good players on offense, but we wanted to hang our hat on defense and special teams. With that being said we run a Bend-But-Don’t-Break defensive package that relies on relentless pursuit and a simple approach so our student athletes are not thinking but playing fast.
As a staff we have been fortunate to be heavily involved in USA Football for the past seven years with National Teams, Regional Development Camps, and as Master Heads Up Trainers in our state. We have two separate tackling circuits that we utilize in season. Below, with the help of Coach Murchison, we give you a breakdown of each day.
We feel very strongly about these circuits as we have had a monstrous decline in concussions on our defense, and also our injuries due to tackling improperly. At the same time we have seen a vast improvement in the decline of our yards after first contact by our opponents. By doing one circuit on Mondays and the other one on Tuesdays in-season, it has really helped us become a more efficient tackling program.
In-Season Monday Tackling Circuit
We focus on three stations with our players broken up by position of Defensive backs, Inside/Outside Linebackers, and Defensive Line. Our staff focuses on always utilizing the same vocal cues with all drill work. All tackling drills will utilize the following buzz words, Breakdown, Buzz, Hit, Shoot, Rip! The defensive staff does a super job of getting the defensive student-athletes fired up about tackling.
Drill 1 Goaline Tackle
This drill is intended to make a quick and aggressive tackle with very little space with a huge point of emphasis being stopping the offense on the goal line. We put a dummy down and have one player act as a runner approximately one foot from the bag. We have cones on both sides of the bag so the defender simulating the runner runs inside of the cone which will be just far enough from the bag so that he can fit through. Coaching Points focus on the defender taking no false steps, keeping his head up, putting his shoulder on the ball and “Ripping” at the point of contact.
Drill 2 Rapid Fire Tackle
This drill is a technical, repetition-based, intense drill. Its success is based on having a defender simulating the ball-carrier to be a Servant Leader. We put out four dummies approximately one yard apart. We have a defender simulate the runner. He will have the ball in his outside hand. They will shuffle and then meet in the space between the bags to make a perfect form tackle. The coaching point of emphasis is on having hot feet, shooting arms, near shoulder on the ball, eyes/head up, and having the proper pad level.
Drill 3: Open-Field Tackle Drill
Open-field tackling is perhaps one of the toughest skills to coach/teach a defender. We set this drill up with a 10-by-10 yard square. We start the defender simulating a runner on one side of the square. We coach our defender to close ground on the ball-carrier with a focus on utilizing leverage with regards to the sideline or the rest of his defenders. Key coaching points focus on buzzing your feet a couple yards from the ball-carrier. We also utilize a coaching point of focusing on the ball-carrier’s belly button to hips. As the defender closes the distance we emphasize putting the front of his shoulder pad on the ball. It is a lot more about making the tackle which can sometimes not be pretty in the open field but the key is making the play.
Coaching Point for Monday’s Circuit
Each drill should only take 90 seconds to two minutes with a huge emphasis on fast-paced productive repetitions. We have found that one of the keys is to really coach up the defender simulating the ball-carrier to be a servant leader in that drill.
In-Season Tuesday Tackling Circuit
This is a non-contact day where we work on four drills that we call our USA Football Tackling Circuit day. This is a huge muscle memory day for our defenders and allows them to utilize extremely safe and efficient violent methods of tackling on bags.
On this day all you will need are 12 agility bags and cones for each line. Each of the three groups will utilize four agility bags.
Drill 1 Freeze Drill
All defenders have their toes at the end of the agility bag. This drill will focus on the proper footwork and pad level at the point of contact when tackling. All staff members start by giving the verbal cue to breakdown. This is an athletic position where all defenders are bent at the ankle, knees and hips with their chest up and out. Then the verbal cue to buzz is given in which all defenders take a positive power step forward, working their way to the other end of the bag with feet chopping. The next verbal cue that all staff utilize is HIT. Prior to the start of the drill all coaches will let the defender know that he will be making a Right Shoulder Right Hit so they will lead with their right foot and take a 45-degree power step with great balance and pad level. The next verbal cue is “SHOOT”; kids will activate their arms in a cocked position ready to shoot arms. The last verbal cue is “Rip” in which defenders will violently rip to the sky. Some other coaching points are: squeeze the elbows together while pulling both your hips, knees, and ankles through at the same time. As the defenders exaggerate these movements it can look like they are doing high knees but this emphasizes the explosive nature of the point of contact when tackling. All defenders will get three reps each Tuesday.
Drill 2: Hip Activation Drill
All defenders in the front of line will go to their knees with the top of their shoelaces facing the ground. Their chest will be up and out while squeezing their shoulder blades together to overemphasize the proper position. The defenders are given the following verbal cues by all coaching staff. The first one is “SHOOT” in which they will sink back with chest still up and arms cocked back. The next verbal cue is “RIP.” At this point the defender should explosively rip to the sky with hips exploding through and squeezing their elbows together. The defender will fall onto the bag in front of him with a huge emphasis chest first and eyes up. Coach staff will hold up their hands with fingers up so defenders have to identify how many are up. This ensures safety for our players as this is a progression to take onto the field.
Drill 3 Perfect Tackle Drill
In this drill we will utilize the agility bags. We have a defender hold the bag horizontally at right below chest level. The defender will stand behind a disc approximately two yards away from the agility bag. The drill is similar to the freeze drill but the difference is the bag is simulating a ball-carrier. The coaches will give the verbal cues “Breakdown, Buzz, Hit, Shoot, Rip.” The main coaching point is for the defender RIP through the bag, squeezing elbows together violently. The rip and squeeze is the most critical part of this drill finishing the tackle on the ball-carrier.
Drill 4: Hawk Roll Tackle Drill
In this drill you will have the defenders get on their knees. The other defender that is simulating the ball-carrier will be holding an agility bag directly in front of him to his right side. They are going to make a right shoulder tackle, roll onto that same shoulder, pull your knees up, and squeeze them together. The verbiage is “SHOOT RIP.” Once the defender is comfortable with the movement we will put them on their feet.
We realize that these drills may seem extremely basic and simple, but we feel that is the key to becoming a sure, confident, safe tackler. We have visited hundreds of collegiate and professional practices and have copied what they do to simulate game-like situations and more importantly put our students-athletes in the best possible situation for success. On behalf of the entire Pinecrest High School football staff and community, it has been my honor along with defensive coordinator Antwon Murchison, to write this article.
Chris Metzger is the head coach at Pinecrest High School Southern Pines North (NC). He has coached USA Football National Teams, Regional Development Camps, and served as a Master Heads Up Trainer.
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