By Eric Edholm, Shutdown Corner
The process of making football safer is a slow trickle.
Do you start at the top and try to make NFL players play more safely, and thus give younger players the model of how to tackle more safely? Or do you start with youth football and try to make it safer for the next generation?
A great chicken-or-egg debate.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has been an innovator, willing to swim upstream on the matter, and has been railing for years about the need to implement the “rugby tackle” into college and NFL football. Clearly, performance hasn’t been sacrificed with Carroll’s teams, which have used it — the Seahawks are one of the best tackling teams in the NFL, just as his former USC teams were when he coached there.
But Hall of Famer and Oakland Raiders DB coach Rod Woodson believes help is needed on the other end, too. Yes, he’ll be coaching a revamped Raiders secondary that two years ago was a major liability and now might be a very solid group. But he also will be spending time in the offseason, starting Friday, helping out middle school and high school players proper football form and technique on the Pro Football Hall of Fame campus in Canton, Ohio.
Woodson is joining the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Academy, a four-day symposium and demonstration this summer aimed at teaching young players how to better train and prepare for football, testing their reaction skills, and also emphasizing character development. But safety and proper tackling technique is also one of the primary areas of concentration in the program.
Woodson believes in the rugby tackle, which aims at getting low, leading with the shoulder and putting the tackler’s head behind the ballcarrier. It will be a big part of the focus at the academy, and given the current climate of the game, which has a far more raised awareness of concussions and the dangers of head trauma, this could be a very important lesson to instill early on. They’ll be bringing in actual rugby players to demonstrate how they tackle, which often is far different than how football players try to.
“When your head is in front of the ball, a lot of the time what happens it that his head and your head collide,” Woodson told Shutdown Corner by phone. “When [the students] see the rugby players tackle — and do so without helmets, without pads — and not get nearly the number of concussions that NFL players get, I think it will be beneficial.
“It’s important for them, but it’s also important for the NFL. It can enhance our game and make it a lot safer.”
And it’s no different than what Woodson said he’ll be teaching his Raiders team. Just because they’re professionals doesn’t mean they can’t learn a better way, Woodson said, and so when the Raiders start OTAs at the end of the month he’ll carry over some of the same things he and the other instructors will be teaching at the academy to Raiders first-round safety Karl Joseph, for instancts, along with the rest of his players.
Safety just one part of the academy, of course. It’s a full-scale instruction of the game, and Woodson said that cutting-egde reactionary testing will be implemented to help speed up young players’ brains to diagnose what’s happening in front of them and react naturally and more quickly.
“My role is to inspire the young kids and give them the instruction, discipline and knowledge they need to be football players,” he said. “But we’re also teaching them standardized combine testing, proper technique and we’re using the latest technology — things I wish I had when I was playing — to give them that extra edge.”
But without that safety knowledge, we could be heading into a generation of more frequent concussions and fewer young players who are allowed to play by their parents. By starting early with the safer tackling form, young players have a chance to make it second nature rather than having to unlearn bad or more dangerous technique later.
“We can help them, and this is what we’re doing this for,” Woodson said, “by showing them the right way to do things early on.”
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