FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - The Eagles never tackle to the ground in practice.
They didn’t tackle well in the preseason game against the Patriots.
Cause and effect? Fair assumption.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon says no.
Gannon said before practice Tuesday at the Jets’ facility that he doesn’t think the Eagles’ tackling issues in the second preseason game were related to the fact that the Eagles simply don’t practice tackling to the ground.
“I don't,” he said. “We tackle every day in individual (drills). We're talking about it constantly.”
But they don’t tackle to the ground, they haven’t since training camp began, and it’s fair to wonder how an NFL team can be prepared for the regular season when not one person has been tackled in four weeks of training camp.
This entire camp has been geared to getting the Eagles to Atlanta healthy on Sept. 12. And that’s understandable considering the franchise’s injury history the last few years.
Practices are crisp but short, extra days off or walkthroughs are built in, starters play few snaps in the preseason games and, yes, nobody ever tackles anyone.
The Eagles did tackle well in the preseason opener against the Steelers, then not so well against the Patriots, although it was largely the second and third teams that had the issues. Still, a number of those players will be on the 53-man roster, and they’ve got to get better.
“We have to clean (it) up a little bit,” Gannon said. “But I didn't feel like it was terrible. We missed more Week 2 than we did Week 1.”
So what’s the solution? How do you get better at tackling without tackling?
Gannon believes NFL defenders can improve without finishing the play and bringing a player to the ground as long as they hone in on the fundamentals up through the point of contact.
Kind of like how piano players can practice without a piano, working through a piece mentally and playing the notes on a table or a desk. It really does work.
“(Tackling) is a skill and to improve a skill, you need to practice it,” Gannon said. “But you can clean a lot of those things up, that will help you not miss tackles before contact is even made. So that's what we stress with our guys: ‘Hey, make sure we are tracking the right way, make sure the angle is the correct angle, we're inserting in the run game the correct way … what they do after contact with their arms and their legs,’ and I think that will show up a little bit this week.”
By tracking, Gannon means a defensive player’s approach as he closes in on a ball carrier or receiver. The thinking is if a defender takes the right angle to the football and is fundamentally sound when he gets there, the actual act of tackling will take care of itself.
“So we won’t take guys to the ground, but they will work on those (other) things,” he said. “We're always working on that … and even though it's not 100 percent live, they are working on the skill of that.”
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