Mike Tomlin Has No Regrets About Intense Tackling In Training Camps

With the Pittsburgh Steelers having now departed from Saint Vincent College, heading back from Latrobe to Pittsburgh to begin the next phase of their preseason, I think it would be an appropriate time to reflect upon a still somewhat recent development that has become a staple there over the past few years: live tackling drills.

For decades, live tackling had been absent in Latrobe, and in most training camps all around the league. Things began to change again with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was put in place, which restricted in many different ways what coaches were able to ask of players on the practice field.

With the reduced access to their roster, one obvious way to increase the productivity of the time that they did have was to allow their players to tackle. Tomlin’s Steelers have been doing this for three or four years now.

The Steelers of the late 00s and early 10s were among the most efficient tacklers in the league, perennially. That trend began to shift in a hurry in the opposite direction as many of their key players grew old and retired, or were released, or simply became less effective.

Before long, they became among the least efficient tackling teams in the league, and that seemed to reach its zenith in 2013 and 2014. While there are still significant issues in that regard, it has been improving, and it should continue to improve as the young players on the defense continue to mature.

Perhaps in light of some injuries that the Steelers have experienced during training camp—which, frankly, have been no worse than any other conventional training camp (just ask the Ravens, who are very proud of their conditioning staff)—Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about it.

Peter King was visiting Pittsburgh’s training camp on Thursday when he asked Tomlin why he carried out such intense practices, which the veteran reporter likened only to the Seahawks’. The head coach responded by saying, “we see the benefits” of intense tackling sessions. “We’ll continue to do what we do”.

One area in which it has especially helped has been—and I know there will be some groans here—in the red zone. It has definitely helped the defense, and if you actually apply some context to the offense’s red zone numbers, they have done well—when Ben Roethlisberger is healthy.

But as Tomlin alluded to, the reason to continue to carry out live-tackling drills is if you see the fruits of the labor. That will come in the form of improved tackling. After all, it’s hard to imagine a better way to get better at tackling than to tackle people.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • hdogg48

    The Seahawks are the best tackling team in football.

    The underrated Patriots are in my view second. That’s why
    they had the number 1 scoring defense last year and are
    always near the top.

    When I think back last year to the games they lost and should
    or could have won I remember the Eagles, Dolphins and
    Cowboys games. The latter of which they were worn down
    and let Zeke Elliott rip off that 35 yard TD run, where he broke
    at least 3 tackles to salt that game away.

    If they can DRASTICALLY improve on their tackling
    I can see them going 13-3, which would include
    a home win over the Pats or Packers, which will be
    BY FAR our toughest tests for our developing D.

  • MP

    That cowboys game still gives me the …..

  • Conserv_58

    Practiced as you are expected to play. Given that axiom I am all for live tackling. It get’s the player’s conditioned to being hit and it aids in the player’s ability to improve their technique.

  • hdogg48

    True dat…after Heyward left, it was like they gave up
    and couldn’t stop anything.

    They had the lead. They were playing at home.
    They were facing a rookie quarterback.

    In the 70s Jack Ham went down, and Dirt Winston came
    in. I remember HOF Player/Announcer Merlin Olson
    remarking, “the only thing that has changed is
    the numbers on the jersey.”

    Not just depth, but tackling depth is what we are
    going to need to get us to 7.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Although there is live tackling at practice; it is limited. It is not as if the Steelers are running Oklahoma drills for two hours straight. The measured use of contact and being very careful with those that get hurt should help the team in the long run. As Matthew pointed out, plenty of other teams including those that don’s have such physical practices are encountering lots of injuries.

  • John Phillips

    Funny you mention dirt as the native Unzer I lived in New Orleans in the 80s and the year they get dirt we play for the Saints on Monday night football absolutely kill the Steelers it was only time in my life I have a root against the Steelers Saints had a chance playoff system is this and of course the Saints lost next three games just wanted

  • Alan Tman

    I honestly was just thinking yesterday I hope this isn’t a replay of 2007.

  • Ken Krampert

    1. A true Steeler fan never roots against the Steelers. Ever.
    2. I highly doubt Dirt Winston alone would have made the difference of the Steelers making the playoffs in any year.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    There’s nothing wrong with running physical practices so long as everyone is assignment sound. At this level, everyone should know their job on the field. You tend to see too much hitting at the lower levels of football. You get a lot of coaches preaching physicality and a lot of kids that are tough, but have no idea who they’re supposed to block. There’s no advantage to simply beating the hell out of each other. There is, however, value in practicing at ACTUAL full speed and working on technique at that speed. Even still, I think the improvement in tackling efficiency can be attributed as much to the number of high picks invested there as it can to physical training camp practices.

  • Brenton deed

    Zenith or nadir?

  • 6 ring circus

    Not even for the #1 pick…