The Miami Dolphins struggled with the basics of tackling in 2013, missing way too many stops and letting players gain extra yards. Last week, against the Atlanta Falcons in the first week of the 2014 Preseason, the Dolphins again struggled to complete tackles. After a week in which the team specifically targeted tackling at practice, will they be able to correct the problem?
"Defensively, really the focus has been tackling," Miami head coach Joe Philbin replied when asked about things the team can improve heading into tomorrow's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "So we've spent a lot of time on that this week. That's a big part of what we're looking (to do). We want to see our team tackle better and we want to get off the field better on third down."
The Dolphins worked several tackling drills throughout the week of practice, the final week of the team's 2014 training camp. Officially the club breaks camp after tomorrow's contest, resorting to a regular-season-style practice schedule. This week's practices were not always pretty, especially the work early in the week when the team conducted an Oklahoma style drill, with running backs and tight ends working one-on-one against linebackers, as reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel's Omar Kelly. The offensive players simply made the linebackers look bad, including several times when linebackers did not even touch the running back.
It's an old problem, and it's a new problem. And, it's a problem that could be the difference between success and failure this year.
"Historically, early in preseason, tackling seems like it's always an issue, most teams that I've been with," defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle explained this week. "Until you really have the opportunity to get multiple repetitions in live tackling situations, even though you simulate tackling right from the very beginning, it's not quite the same and that was evident the other night."
The Dolphins lost to the Falcons 16-10, in no small part because of missed tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins missed 11 tackles. That's compared to five for the Falcons.
"Certainly we have to tackle better, Coyle continued. "So, obviously we've made a commitment regardless but this week is still a very, very important fundamental training camp week. So we spent time on tackling yesterday and did some very good drill work today and hopefully as we progress through the training camp and preseason games it will improve dramatically."
Philbin added to Coyle's thoughts. "We did a couple of different drills. We had the linebackers against the running backs and the tight ends in a drill right here, down here, where we had about five yards of space, they were about 10 yards apart and I thought it was a very, very good drill. We also did a score drill where we had the defense on the red line, you guys notice the red lines, and we had an offensive player, the receivers about five yards away, within a five-yard area, attempting to get across the red line. We added a couple of drills today, as you mentioned, it's not that we don't work on tackling at other times, but we want to make it an emphasis this week."
Will that emphasis result in improved tackling this week? Will it carry on into the regular season?
The Dolphins take the field against the Buccaneers at 7:30pm ET in Tampa Saturday night.