Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Bengals work to improve tackling

Lewis seeks consistency in basic skill

By Mark Curnutte
Enquirer staff writer

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - For all of its complex schemes and confusing language, the Bengals defense is getting better because of an improvement in the most basic of football skills: Tackling.

Today's schedule

The Bengals practice for the final time at training camp from 8:45-11:15 a.m.


From downtown: Take I-75 South about 70 miles to Exit 126 (Georgetown, Ky.). Turn right off ramp onto U.S. 460 West. Stay on 460 for about 2 miles. Turn right at light onto Lemons Mill Road (1962 West). Turn right into driveway flanked with Georgetown College/Bengals signs.

Coming up

The Bengals will practice Thursday at the fields adjacent to Paul Brown Stadium.

Injury report

• Tailback Rudi Johnson sat out the morning practice - he had wisdom teeth pulled Sunday - but returned for the afternoon session.

• Tight end Reggie Kelly (thumb) practiced in the afternoon.

• Wide receiver Kelley Washington, who twisted an ankle in the morning, did not practice in the afternoon.

• Left tackle Levi Jones returned to practice Tuesday.

• Wide receiver Peter Warrick (knee) is "probable" for the preseason game Saturday night at Atlanta, coach Marvin Lewis said.

Palmer watch

Quarterback Carson Palmer took a spill in the morning practice during a pass play. It was unclear whether a defensive teammate got too close and knocked him down.

Palmer threw a 50-yard pass while running right during the afternoon practice. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught it.

Tuesday's highlight

Lewis stopped an 11-on-11 play before it started and told the defense to huddle again. He was upset that a verbal call was made after the unit broke its first huddle.

Cornerback Alvin Porter broke up a pass intended for Chad Johnson in the corner of the end zone and drew applause from his defensive teammates.

Preseason schedule
Aug. 14 - at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
Aug. 21 - NEW ENGLAND, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 28 - at Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 3 - INDIANAPOLIS, 7:30 p.m.

Since the defense gave up 160 rushing yards in the intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 6, coaches have emphasized tackling in the classroom and put players through various tackling drills to drive home their point.

"We've done a nice job tackling," coach Marvin Lewis said. "That was the thing that was most disappointing the Friday night out here (scrimmage)."

After finishing tied for 25th in rush defense in 2003 at 138.6 yards a game, the Bengals stand at seventh in the league after two preseason games with an 83.5-yard average. The first-team defense has not given up a touchdown in its first three quarters of preseason play.

Tackling is more about a mindset than physical skills.

"Ninety percent mental," is how Bengals assistant Chuck Bresnahan sees it. "No question you have to be a great tackling team to be a good defensive team."

Bresnahan, the former defensive coordinator in Oakland, stressed tackling with the Raiders. Lewis, as defensive coordinator, stressed it with the Super Bowl-winning, record-setting group he coached in Baltimore.

Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier played on one of the greatest defensive teams in league history, the 1985 Bears.

"Force of will makes a difference," Frazier said after morning practice Tuesday, in which defenders ran through tackling drills.

"Guys have to want to be good tacklers. You can do a bunch of tackling drills - which we do - but if a guy doesn't have it in his heart to want to tackle, to put his face on the ball and wrap a guy up, you're wasting your time. It's got to be from here ," he said, pointing to his heart.

"We've convinced our guys that this is a necessity in order for us to improve as a defense. That was an area we were really poor in a year ago. We had people in the right places at times, and we just blew it."

Practice drills aim to simulate game conditions for defensive players. Some drills force players to shed blocks in order to make a tackle. "We've been drilling it out here in practice a little more than we did last year, and it's showing up already," cornerback Tory James said.

Tackling is not emphasized or taught as thoroughly as it once was, Lewis said, on all levels of football. NFL observers have lamented the fading art of tackling.

"It's eroding from the bottom up," Lewis said. "It's not taught in youth sports, it's not taught in high school, it's not taught in college; the time in college is so limited. It's falling apart."

Lewis teaches tackling this way: Maintain flexibility in the knees. Explode in the hips. Keep the head up. Grab cloth.

Sometimes, the desire to make a highlight-reel hit prevents a defender from achieving his objective - to get the ball carrier on the ground.

"Sometimes you get over-aggressive and really try to blow a guy up," Bengals strong safety Rogers Beckett said. "You want to eliminate yards after contact."

Big, strong, fast running backs and receivers make the defense's job harder.

"Especially at this level," said Beckett, who played at Marshall. "In college, you could hit a guy, and he'll fall down. But here, guys have tremendous abilities. You might hit them, but they'll spin off and just keep on going."

Inconsistent tackling in 2003 led to inconsistent performance by the Bengals defense. The Bengals held Chiefs superstar running back Priest Holmes to 98 total yards from scrimmage, his 10-game low. Then the same defense gave up 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns to Browns rookie running back Lee Suggs. "We have the talent. We had it last year," defensive tackle John Thornton said. "I think it's even upgraded."

Tackle technique

Bengals linebackers (bottom-top) Frank Chamberlin and Kevin Hardy work on a tackling drill.
(Enquirer photo/STEVEN M. HERPPICH)
Bengals defensive tackle Tony Williams shares his five keys to making a tackle:

1. Keep your feet driving.

2. Grab cloth as hard as you can. Use your hands to grab cloth, anywhere.

3. When you tackle, use all your strength. When you grab them, that's just where it begins. When he hits the ground, that's where it ends.

4. It's all your might really, mind and body really. You have to mentally want to tackle.

5. You can't just close your eyes on a tackle. You have to keep your eyes open. If you blink, some guys disappear by the time you open them. That's why I wear a visor, so I can keep my eyes open without worrying about getting poked in the eye.



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