How to Bring a Big Man Down in Football
Tackling is one of football’s fundamentals. But it’s not as easy as it may appear on TV, particularly when the runner is bigger than the would-be tackler. A defensive player should employ solid techniques when tackling any ball carrier, but adhering to the fundamentals is even more important when you’re attempting to bring a bigger man down.
Square yourself to the ball carrier, if possible, and take a well-balanced stance with your feet about shoulder-width apart, your knees flexed and your waist bent slightly forward. This won’t always be possible when you’re attempting an open-field tackle, particularly when you’re moving at an angle relative to the runner or pursuing from far across the field. In such cases, at least try to flex your knees and bend from the waist so you can hit the runner low on his body.
Lead with one shoulder when you’re attacking the ball carrier. Never lead with your helmet. Striking a runner -- particularly a bigger runner -- with your helmet first can cause your neck to snap back, possibly leading to a very serious injury. Even if you don’t get hurt, you may cost your team a 15-yard penalty for spearing.
Drive your shoulder into the runner’s midsection or his thighs. If you attempt to hit a bigger ball carrier higher than his gut, there’s a good chance you’ll merely bounce off. Continue driving your legs forward after the initial hit.
Wrap both of your arms around the ball carrier’s midsection or, preferably, his legs as you hit him with your shoulder. A bigger runner may not go down from the initial hit alone. Wrapping your arms around his legs simultaneously, however, will at least slow him down. Even if you’re not strong enough to bring the bigger runner down by yourself, maintaining your position can give your teammates time to arrive and finish him off.
Expect a big runner to drop his shoulder and lower his body’s profile as you approach. Be prepared to bend even lower so you can attack his legs.
While diving at a player’s ankles isn’t the recommended tackling technique, it can be effective. Even the biggest runner must be able to place both his feet on the ground to maintain his balance. If you’re in an awkward position, or if you’re chasing a runner from the side, grab for any piece of the runner you can reach. If you grab his ankle or hit him hard in the shins you’ll likely knock him off balance. Former American Football League star Cookie Gilchrist, a 6-foot-3, 251-pound fullback, said that even a smaller tackler “can bring a big man down if you hit him from the knees down, head on.”
If a runner drops his shoulder prior to a tackle, his helmet will drop as well. Do everything possible to avoid hitting him helmet-to-helmet, which can cause serious injuries to both the tackler and the runner. Keep your head up until you make contact with the runner.
M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.