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The art of tacklin’ (pt. 2)

Miami was one of the worst tackling programs in the country the past two seasons, will that change under a new leadership?

Michigan State v Miami Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

A year ago, when the All-22 started rolling in, I worked on a few pieces on sprinting, pursuit, and of course the art of tackling. In this piece, the art of tacklin’ (pt. 2) I will focus on the teachings of Andrew Ryland (Twitter), a grappling guru from The ‘Net.

When creating drills and small sided games, there has to be a progression. The progression should start off as simple in the early off-season and eventually become more complex leading up to camp. Even when it comes to strength and conditioning the same rules seem to apply.

Early in the off-season lift slow, heavy, and simple. Keeping your bar velocity between 0.00 and 0.50 m/s. Speed work is minimal during Absolute Strength as you may work on some GPP qualities for sprinting like inclines, declines, and backwards runs. Eventually I start teaching the basics of our linear sprint program.

Once Accelerative Strength starts I will start in on the linear speed program, the curved speed program, and the COD-Agility program. All of which also have a ‘progressive’ ramping quality to them. You don’t want to expose athletes to too much, too soon.

In Daniel Bove’s (Twitter) book, The Quadrant System, coaches should load up on one day, knowing that there is recovery time. If every day is completely taxing to the central nervous system (CNS) that could result in burnout of your athletes. Rather than practicing hard on Monday and training hard on Tuesday, just train and practice hard on Monday allowing Tuesday to be a recovery day from both aspects.

Once camp starts, you’re fixing and tweaking things in the intermediate range on most days, and you can work on more complex items on your high intensity days. But tackling drills, like speed work, are done in a progression and by the time the season hits those “day one” drills should be a thing of the past.

Miami Tackling Drills

I’m borrowing from a video from InsideTheU (linked here). Back in 2016, Miami was using more body-to-body contact in their tackling drills. Manny Diaz was obviously the defensive coordinator, and you’ll even see him in the second drill.

These drills are pretty simple, early on sort of drills. The kind of drills you’d expect to see at a middle school early in camp. However, this is a game prep week for Miami in ‘16 against FAMU.

In drill one, there’s no block defeat and the movement is very simple and closed, but there is spacing. In drill two there’s minimal movement, no spacing, and no block defeat. Neither drill has players working in tandem, and neither drill features the manipulation of space or time.

This is really some day one tackling work. Not much for the eyes and brain to have to coordinate to the body.

From the video in 2016, in clip one the ‘Canes are working on an angle tackle drill. They keep a bag between the players (how they don’t have grapple equipment is beyond me) to avoid the full on contact which is smart.

But when you examine the quality of work, it’s lacking. This player in the picture above is high, chest rubbing, and his butt is back as opposed to throwing his hips through the tackle in a “dip and up” motion. The coaches are standing around, not doing very much hands-on work, hell, I’m not sure you can even hear them making corrections.

Above- There is that Miami tackling form you’ve grown to know and loathe. The player over runs a bag drill, then comes in off balance, arms wide, butt pushed out, ready to have Javontae Williams slam a thigh board into his face.

Above- In the clip you’re not seeing guys come to balance much. Many of the clips are just running into each other, chest rubbing. Not a ton of dip-up motion either.

Clip 2

At least in clip 2 you see Diaz coaching, unlike the assistants in clip 1. You can see Diaz at one point explaining the pull and squeeze which his players don’t seem to typically do in practice nor game film.

In this drill the ball carrier is going to ‘take a bump’ for you (rasslin’ people understand what I mean), but in real life, you have to double leg him and squeeze those legs as you pull them into your chest.

Above- Six here dumps the stationary target, sure, but he doesn’t squeeze and pull the legs into his chest. It’s all fun and games until a UVA ball carrier runs your ass over.

Clip 3

This is October 22nd of 2019. Players are 3 12 years into the Manny Diaz tackling system. They did purchase a short heavy bag which is used for grappling.

The major issues you see are as follows:

Arms back behind the tackler.

The tackler doesn’t buzz his feet and come to balance before contact.

The bag doesn’t move, there’s no block defeat, when the hell is a ball carrier going to just stand there and let you run full speed and hit him without at least moving a little?

You want to stay big, buzz your feet, and then dip and rip upwards. They’re doing it all wrong.

Clip 4

This is March of 2020 before Miami began its final descent into being the nation’s worst tackling team. There is a very simulated over the top ‘block defeat’ that’s predictable and ridiculously useless, before the defender sprints 5+ yards against a tackling ring. It’s year 4 12 now in Diaz’s tackling system.

Issues with this ‘drill’ are:

The block defeat needs to change up and give the defender something to think about. Visual and cognitive skills are important, obviously.

Why isn’t the ‘finish’ tackle against a body with a shield, or at least a moving target.

We still haven’t seen a drill that uses two defenders, manipulated space or manipulated timing. These are all fairly simple drills that should be used in spring practice, not October of the season.

The positives are:

The ring is rolled last minute and the tackler does buzz his feet and come to balance. This required visual-cognitive development, and it at least wasn’t as stationary and predictable as the other drills.

What does Oregon do?

It wasn’t very easy to find clips of Oregon practicing tackling under Mario Cristobal. YouTube had practically nothing. Twitter had 2-3 clips I’ve used below.

Clip 1

Same ol’ CQB grab and dump drill from Miami. These bros obviously all watch the same drill video passed around the offices. Are the Ducks driving their feet and pulling the legs in for a double leg takedown? Not really.

Clip 2

Here is Oregon in late September using a pretty simple tackling drill. Again, I’m not sure why coaches love having guys dive at inanimate objects.
Positives: The bag is moving, the tackler is forced to close down on space.

Negatives: If you run full speed and dive at a real ball carrier, are you even going to make contact?

The ball carrier isn’t going full speed.

The tackler doesn’t have to run his feet, he actually leaves his feet which allows for broken tackles or missed tackle all together.

Clip 3

I do like this drill as it incorporates work for both sides of the football.

The positives are also that the defenders are working on different techniques.

There’s movement, space is manipulated. Time will always be different because it’s moving pieces.

Negatives: Are they working in game speed?

Are they doing any drills where the two defenders are trying to close down and working on tackling in concert with each other?


Mario’s authenticity is always shining through. He’s an old school meathead in a lot of ways and I have a feeling this “live” and “physical” stuff isn’t just media lip service.

The gurus of grapple

Andrew Ryland and Richie Gray (Twitter) are two of my “gurus of grapple.” Gray has invented and sold tackling equipment (linked here) while Ryland is a Penn State linebacker turned Rugby coach.

Clip 1

Remember those Miami tackling drills from above? Go back and compare the leg drive in Diaz’s drills (which to be fair to Manny, are ran all over the county in American football) to Ryland’s clip.

Clip 2

Ryland points out this exact point via a Richie Gray drill. The tackler has to respond on the visual cue, and has to keep his legs driving through contact.

Clip 3

American Football coaches love to tackle from 5-10 yards distance. 1- that’s why there are so many practice injuries in American football, 2- look at the type of work all three players can get when you work in close quarters.

Compared to the Miami drill of sprinting from 10 yards away and hitting a tackling ring, this helps both defenders and the ball carrier.

Clip 4

Everyone wants more time on the Jugs machine, but not more time spent on grappling. Players can safely work on these skills on their own in the IPF. At the high school level, try your wrestling room.

Clip 5

Remember, taking a bump for someone doesn’t mean flipping and flying all over to make an unrealistic rasslin’ match nor an unrealistic football drill. Work, fight, then concede to keep the drill safe but realistic.

Clip 6

I know we’re limited in what we see from Miami, and most college teams. They try to keep the media away from seeing too much. But we didn’t once see a drill with real block destruction, pursuit, or shape change and timing.

Working with rabbits, dots, etc where the ball carrier never tries to make it hard on the tackler isn’t realistic enough to gain anything from once you’re an experienced grappler. You may warm up hitting off of a tee, but eventually you have to face live pitching in order to get down your timing and adjustment to different pitch types, locations and speeds.

Clip 7

Adding in blockers, defenders, space, and time are all necessary parts of drill progression. Power 5 college football programs should be past diving into a tackling ring and able to work on block defeat and finish.

Below- And these space and time conversations are exemplified by the Kenny Pickett fake slide. Pickett slides-slides if the defenders close space and force him to get down. they don’t have to go diving in head first to spear him, just keep buzzing down on him.

Clip 8

Defeat a low block, set up top, finish vs a ball carrier that’s pushing hard against you. But also, enjoy the damn drill. Don’t have fun, make it fun.

Wrapping up

Oh, the puns! You can see the difference in the coaching styles of Diaz and Cristobal just from drills alone. Cristobal’s assistants are up front coaching, and are more visibly engaged in the drill. There are corrections being made. Accountability to be had. And the players aren’t screwing around like when you watch the YouTube video from Miami.

Again, small sample sizes all around. I’m hoping for some All-22 to come in on Oregon, Miami, and other schools soon now that teams are on their break, the GA’s, QC’s and analysts have time to send film over.

Now that you have time off for the holidays, when your Uncle Roman or Roscoe pisses you off during one of those “Die Hard isn’t a Christmas movie” bitch sessions, try out some Ryland and Gray tackling techniques on him.