In my very limited time playing tackle football, I distinctly remember one of my coaches yelling during tackling drills, "Tackling...you either got it, or you don't!"
Upon hearing that, I was determined to be a have, and not a have not, in regards to tackling. However, one thing I learned from my early adolescent years throughout the pinnacle of my brief career, is how tackling is far from black and white. Not just in technique, but also in end result.
Tackling is an art form which can be worked on, improved upon and something which ultimately started as a weakness transformed into a strength.
These principles are true from pop warner football, all the way to the NFL. So, after the Pittsburgh Steelers displayed some hideous tackling in their defensive secondary against the Detroit Lions in their first preseason football game, there is hope this facet of the game will improve moving into Week 2.
How bad was the tackling against Detroit? Head coach Mike Tomlin addressed it this way when meeting with media after the game.
"I didn't think we did a good enough job on third down," Tomlin said. "Some of that was coupled with just poor tackling, guys hustling to the ball but not coming to balance and overshooting the runner and so forth. The tackling was not up to snuff, in particular on position downs. They moved the chains quite a bit by throwing the ball short of the first down. And guys were running after because we missed tackles. "
Not a ringing endorsement, but certainly not a death knell for the Steelers defense.
When hearing from many players, especially young and inexperienced ones, you could possibly chalk up the poor tackling to nerves or pre-game jitters.
The one play which probably stands out in most fans' minds is when Sean Davis had a chance to tackle 14-year veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the open field, and literally bounced off the receiver on his way to a 30-yard catch and run.
"Man, I just ... the nerves, and then I tried to just make up for it and crush him, but I didn't know he was that big," Davis told Dustin Dopirak of DKPittsburghSports.com. "I kinda bounced off, but like I said, that was my first one. I've gotta approach the game like everyone's not small."
"The more I was out there, the more comfortable I got," Davis said. "I was just playing ball, just playing fast, just doing me. I got the jitters out early, and finally, once I got calm and relaxed, I played my football."
It is safe to say this was the theme with many players in their first game action in the 2016 preseason, but before fans start to declare the team's tackling a lost cause, wait to see if it improves. It naturally will improve throughout the preseason when the rosters get trimmed from 90 to 75, and again from 75 to the final 53-man unit. Some of the players missing tackles won't be on the team when they travel to play the Washington Redskins in Week 1.
However, improving tackling won't be an easy task, especially with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The current agreement between the owners and players allows only a specific number of padded practices a week, to help protect players. It will be paramount for Mike Tomlin, and his coaching staff, to address the tackling in the waning days of training camp, but this issue, although troubling, is far from one which can't be fixed.
So, unlike what my youth football coach said, tackling isn't a skill which you have or don't, it is now up to the Steelers to prove their improvement next Thursday when the Philadelphia Eagles come to Heinz Field for their second preseason game.