Even a large school like Masconomet, however, is emphasizing technique over brute force.
“We haven’t tackled full speed in practice for years,” said Chieftains head coach Jim Pugh as he begins his 25th season. “From the varsity level to youth football, it’s about keeping your head up, making contact with the shoulder and bowling your neck.
Is there any concern over teaching kids how to tackle without actually banging full speed? What about the notion that the best way to learn is by doing?
“Years ago I bought a dummy that goes on a long pole and it simulates open field tackling. We tackle it and use it for cut blocking. There’s a lot you can get you of equipment and pads,” said North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie coach Paul Worth, a 17-year fixture on the Bulldogs’ sideline.
“We don’t do the crazy Oklahoma drills in the preseason anymore and the more I think about it, I’m not sure how much we got out of it. Maybe it was unnecessary.”
The Mass. High School Football Coaches Association recently hosted a Practice Like The Pros seminar with leading expert Dr. Robert Cantu. Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens told the group that with more emphasis on technique and less full contact, his team’s missed tackles were reduced by 50 percent, Dembowski said.
“The only time we’ve been live in is scrimmages. You’re practicing full speed with an emphasis on technique,” Dembowski added. “You worry about how we’ll block and tackle live, but if a kid knows his assignments you teach technique. And if he has both, it’s about who will execute the best.”
Coaches have always preached giving up the big hit in order to make the sure tackle. In other words, a defender launching himself to make a highlight hit can easily miss, especially if the ballcarrier is shifty. Breaking down and tackling with the shoulders is a natural extension of that philosophy.