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Jim Knowles May Bring Back Rugby Style Tackling

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ShawneeBuck74's picture
January 9, 2022 at 10:24am

As we look back on this season, one thing that stands out on defense is that we sucked at tackling. IMHO, the best we've been at tackling was when Chris Ash convinced Urban (basically had to badger him) to convert to Rugby Style tackling. It was a huge mistake by Schiano to go away from this.

Interestingly, Jeff Hafley was a proponent (and we saw how well that went for our defense in 2019):

“We’re still teaching the components of the rugby-style tackling. The whole key to tackling is trying to keep the head out for the safety of the game. There are other things that we’ve all learned and we’ve come together to talk about, but the main thing is to keep the head out of it for safety reasons.”


Pete Carroll is the early adopter/leader of this method. While many decry this method as "weak" and "not real football" -- consider that Seattle's D was known as "The Legion of Boom."  Also, I wouldn't recommend calling a professional Rugby player "weak" to his face.  

Naturally, I wondered what Jim Knowles thought.  I found this article...with a nice lengthy quote from Knowles while he was at Duke:

Whether or not rugby-style tackling fully catches on, the intent is good. Duke adopted the technique two years ago in part because football’s brain trauma crisis directly hit Knowles, the Blue Devils’ defensive coordinator.

Knowles was good friends with former teammate Tom McHale, an ex-NFL player who died in 2008 at the age of 45 from a drug overdose. McHale was diagnosed post-mortem with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease often found in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

“Tom’s wife, who I’m close to, donated his brain to research study and that gave me a lot of pause,” Knowles said. “You really have to look at how you’re doing things. It’s still a great game, right? But we need to preserve it, even if you have to do some drastic things. In order to protect this game, tackling like this is a necessity.”


It stands out when a tough, old school coach can see the data and understand the game needs to adapt in order to save the game itself by protecting the players as much as possible.  Indeed, scientific research shows this style of tackling is safer for your brain:

This is exactly the question that Dr. Suzanne Konz and Dr. Zach Garrett set out to answer. And the answer they got was that rugby-style tackling is safer and more effective for all players. During the study, football players actually started changing their techniques to rugby-style tackling simply because of the results of the study. They could see that this style of tackling was better for them, so they were making the switch. 


It's hard to see the downside of rugby tackling. with it you have: (1) Fewer missed tackles, (2) Safer for the brain, and (3) Less targeting penalties.  

TL;DR - It looks like Rugby style tackling may be an emphasis with Knowles & that should be excellent news for the Buckeyes

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