The Packers’ preseason game tonight against Cleveland will mark the third time in training camp to measure progress on one of their offseason priorities: tackling.
Coach Mike McCarthy has been talking about tackling since the start of the offseason, and the Packers have put in the work on tackling fundamentals in practice with more and longer periods than in past training camps. However, NFL teams don’t tackle to the ground in practice for a key practical reason: avoiding unnecessary injury risk.
So the Packers need games to see whether the emphasis is working. The first was the Family Night scrimmage and the second was the preseason opener at San Diego. Against the Chargers, the Packers’ No. 1 defense missed two tackles on a 27-yard touchdown catch by Vincent Brown, one by dime cornerback Jerron McMillian and the other by safety M.D. Jennings.
But overall, safeties coach Darren Perry said the tackling in that game was OK.
“We missed two on the one (touhdown) play and Jerron had another missed tackle,” Perry said, “but after that I thought it was pretty clean for the first time out of the gate, when you have a tendency to be a little sloppy. We’ve emphasized it, we spent a lot of time working on it, and it did show up first time out. We just have to be perfect on the back end (i.e., safety), we can’t miss. They can miss up front at the D- line or linebacker spot, but usually if we miss on the back end it’s usually a big play. We have to continue to have that type of emphasis.”
The tackling drills in practice can’t mimic game tackling, because they’re not done at full speed, again to avoid injury risk. When the defense practices wrapping up on a tackle, it’s at about half speed and the tackler takes the ball carrier down on a huge pad like high jumpers land on. When the drills are done at a faster pace, such as with defensive backs working on running angles and tackling form, they still aren’t going full speed and the action stops just after the players make contact.
“You try to put guys in situations (in practice) where they feel the stress,” Perry said, “and understand that we can’t quite simulate it 100 percent in practice. But you want to put your body in position so when you get out there on Sundays it’s not foreign and it’s not new to you. You’ve somewhat felt the stress and you know what it’s going to take if you have to change directions in a split second to be an effective tackler.”
Reach Dougherty at email@example.com or via Twitter @PeteDougherty