Thanks in large part to the latest collective bargaining agreement and changing customs at various levels of football, you very seldom will see teams devote full practices and weeks at training camp to working on their tackling.
Gone are the days of seeing teams spend several consecutive days practicing live drills that require their defenders to tackle offensive players. Now, you rarely see teams even sneak in two or three such practices before they play their first preseason game.
Aside from a rather lively six-play goal-line drill at the end of a practice last week, and two practices at the close of their first week of camp, the Cincinnati Bengals haven't enacted much true contact entering their preseason opener Thursday night at Kansas City. They have regularly thudded -- made contact with ballcarriers without bringing them to the ground -- but they haven't really tackled much, excluding a few stray forearm shivers and times when they struggled slowing their momentum before running into another player.
Despite the lack of true hitting, the Bengals are confident in their tackling. They think they will be fine when they have face the Chiefs.
"It's always an adjustment," coach Marvin Lewis said about tackling in the first preseason game. "We put an emphasis on it on defense to make sure. Ball security and tackling are two things during the first preseason game that hopefully you don't get surprised by."
Lewis also joked about the few times this camp when they have had "some tackling that's not supposed to be tackling." He was referring to the forearm rookie Marquis Flowers gave receiver Cobi Hamilton on a low-contact 7-on-7 exercise at the start of one recent practice. Hamilton, not expecting the blow, fell instantly to the turf. Vontaze Burfict also has had his share of unintentional tackles, running hard into rookie tight end Ryan Hewitt, and receiver Jeremy Johnson.
One defender who isn't too worried about the adjustment he'll be making Thursday night is rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard.
"I like to tackle," he said. "I like to lay the wood, pretty much."
When it comes to tackling in this game, his focus has been and will continue to be having sound technique.
"You've got to practice right throughout the week and go through the mechanics of it," Dennard said. "Really, tackling is all about the mechanics and looking at the right things and shooting and rolling your hips. So we've done enough of that."
Smart to hold McCarron? In case you missed it Tuesday night, here is an update on another rookie, quarterback AJ McCarron, who hasn't participated in a single practice snap since training camp opened nearly three weeks ago. McCarron said he's simply resting his throwing shoulder, per orders from Lewis and team president Mike Brown.
After dealing with arm tightness during the spring and some lingering soreness from his college days, McCarron has been shelved in hopes of getting the arm back to some semblance of restored health. McCarron says his arm feels fine, even after attempting about 60-70 throws after each practice.
Is holding him out a smart move? Absolutely. There is no reason to rush him onto the field, and there really is no need to rush his return to health. This gives him more time to keep learning the playbook and developing his role as a backup. It's clear after starting quarterback Andy Dalton's contract extension this week that the Bengals are banking on Dalton being the starter for many years to come. But in case it doesn't work out with Dalton, they still have a backup in the next few years they will be able to turn to in McCarron, once Jason Campbell retires or moves on.
It's possible McCarron could spend the season under some injury designation that would keep him on the roster and prevent him from being poached by another team. It's also possible the Bengals try to add him to their practice squad, gambling that he won't get snatched away by another team. Or, they can just clear him medically and add him to the roster.
My vote is for either Option 1 or 3.
Whatever move the Bengals ultimately make, it is wise to spare the rookie for now.