Wednesday, July 13, 2011


My best day in football practice was a tackling drill.  Coach formed a lane about three yards wide, lined on either side with players.  In that lane, I stood at one end, a ball carrier at the other.  His job was to try to run over me.  He couldn't go around because there wasn't space, the other players forming a fence.  It was straight on, head to head, me against him.  I want to tell you I was great!  I drove my shoulder into his belt buckle, my arms around his legs, and slammed him onto his back with me on top.  Did it several times.  Teammates were astounded.  They knew I wasn't the best player on the team.  Why was I making all these killer tackles? 

Austin #46 and #76 creating a seam for the runner.
I never, not once, made a tackle like that in a game.  Because I never, not once, had a situation in a game where it was just me against the runner.  In games, there are blockers.  Blockers make tackling difficult.  Blockers and shifty runners.

Blocks don't have to be perfect.  Just control the defensive line for a few seconds, create a seam for a speedy runner.  If you can get the tackler off balance, just keep her out of the seam for a few seconds, your ball carrier can zip through and head up the field.
Strength against strength.  Lily, #61, has position and
is winning against her opponent.
Blocking is generally invisible except when done badly.  The most thankless job in the game.  Blocking is hard work.  If you're on the offensive line you are going up against the biggest players on the defense and doing battle.  Play after play, your strength against hers. 

Effective blockers learn to get lower than the defensive player.  Lower means leverage.  Lower gives the blocker an edge.  Control.  When I played in the offensive line, it was illegal for blockers to use their hands.  Our technique was to keep hand near chest and drive the forearm into the midsection of the opponent.  Today blockers tend to stand up more than when I played but still aim to get position on the opponent by getting lower and leveraging her backwards.

Blocking isn't just for the line.  The best running backs and receivers know to block when someone else has the ball.  I picked up an interesting series of photos during the Dallas game.  Monica is a running back but in this series she blocks.  And with remarkable results.

Monica facing three would-be tacklers.  Toni Fuller is the running back.

Monica nails the first of the three.  Although she doesn't hit the
others, her block throws them off their path toward Toni.

And Toni scoots past Monica's block and uses her speed to elude
the other tacklers for a substantial gain (Toni is hidden from view by
another Outlaw player coming to help.)

The block doesn't have to be perfect.  Tackling a shifty runner is difficult under any circumstances.  Doing it when a blocker is in your way makes it that much more difficult. 

When I revisit a game in freeze frame on my computer, with Photoshop to zoom in an enlarge images, I'm always fascinated by the blocking.  I love the line play because that's where I spent my not-too-illustrious career.  And I love watching running backs heading up field running interference for the ball carrier.

This is Shadana running a sweep with Monica and I believe Nicolette Arceneaux running interference.
I like the photo for lots of reasons.  One is seeing Nicolette, a line player, running up the field to
provide blocking.  Another is the teamwork as Monica without the ball is still fully involved.  A third reason
is about photography - this is one of the very rare cases where I get a decent photo when the stadium lights
are on and the sun is down.  I brand myself less than a pro photographer because I'm using a flash.  One
of these days I'll break down and buy a fast lens for $1,700. 

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