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Here’s how Ohio State wants youth football coaches to teach tackling

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 5:34 PM

Ohio State football assistant coach Alex Grinch explains how the Buckeyes are taught to tackle without using their heads and notes using the head is inefficient anyway.

Alex Grinch had two big selling points as he laid out the tackling method Ohio State football has adopted in recent years. 

Not only is the Buckeyes’ system safer, it is effective. 

The latter is important, he noted to an audience of roughly 170 youth and high school coaches, because otherwise it won’t be used. 

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The former – safety – is key at a time when youth participation has fallen across the country. 

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“Our game is changing,” Grinch said. “If we don’t do something about it, then we’re at the mercy of the powers that be. Who are they? They’re the moms and dads that don’t let their kids play sports, specifically ours. So we can’t bury our heads in the sand.” 

Here are the key teaching points from Grinch, Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach: 

1. The Ohio State’s “deductive tackling system” relies on three core principles. 

Use the hip as an aiming point, keep the eyes up and keep those feet moving. 

The low aiming point helps prevent helmet-to-helmet contact. Eyes up prevents using the crown of the helmet and moving the feet basically brings it all together by providing the force needed to complete the tackle. 

2. Out is the old “head across the bow” approach. 

Coaches used to teach players to cut off a runner’s path head first. That didn’t mean leading with the helmet, per se, but it did tend to put a player's head in the path of a pending collision. 

Instead, Ohio State teaches players that while aiming for the offensive player’s hip, the head will go behind the ball-carrier — and that’s OK. 

3. In is the “wrap and roll” tackle. 

Going behind the ball-carrier necessitates bringing him down with both arms and using a player’s momentum to bring him down. 

The upshot of this: Since we’re usually tackling a moving target, this ended up happening anyway no matter how many straight-on tackling drills a team might have held in the summer heat. 

By encouraging what was often a by-product of the old tackling method, Ohio State coaches have found the new method more effective and easier to adopt. 

4. They still stress the “athletic position” and “see what you hit.” 

These are two things I can say coaches have been stressing for at least 25 years. It’s probably longer than that, but 25 years ago marks the first time I was taught to tackle so that’s as far back as I can go. 

A player in the “athletic position” will be on his toes with knees bent, chest forward and butt down. If players are taught to maintain that posture, they are less likely to bend forward naturally and lead with the head. 

“See what you hit” is also an old mantra intended to make sure players keep their eyes up at all times because if they are looking down at the ground, they will lead with the top of their helmet. 

That is dangerous for both the ball-carrier and the tackler because it causes the spinal column to line up, increasing the potential for fractured vertebrae and spinal injuries such as the one Ryan Shazier suffered against the Bengals last season when he delivered a hit with the crown of his helmet. 

5. Arms are the new chest.

Grinch demonstrated a way to reduce helmet-to-helmet contact is to stress leading with the arms instead of the upper body. 

That goes for players on both sides of the ball. Whether they are making a block, disengaging from a block or attempting a tackle, by establishing contact with the arms and using the body as a counterbalance, players can be physical and effective without involving their heads in direct contact. 

6. Use bags as tackling dummies as much as possible. 

Throughout his presentation, Grinch showed the Buckeyes hitting different types of bags instead of players smashing into each other. 

This obviously reduces the number of collisions players have overall, which cuts down on injury and prevents overall wear and tear. 

Another added benefit of doing more reps with bags than a live ball-carrier: Players will develop muscle memory of the right technique rather than doing anything necessary to get a player on the ground, which is what tends to happen in old-fashioned mano-a-mano tackling drills.