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Thursday, August 5, 2010
Packers camp Day 1: Tackling drills

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here's what intrigued me more than anything I saw Thursday at Green Bay Packers training camp: a pair of simple tackling drills.

As you might recall, we have questioned the steps -- or lack thereof -- the Packers made to improve their pass defense in the wake of a couple ugly late-season showings. Didn't they need more cornerback depth? Other than linebacker Clay Matthews, where would their pass rush come from?

During an interview at the March owners meeting, coach Mike McCarthy said he would make the pass defense an "emphasis' and established two defensive priorities for the offseason: improving tackling and handling adversity. He added: "There are some things we can do to improve that in our drill work, and that's what will be done."

What the Packers did Thursday, and have done throughout their camp, was tackling drills that I haven't seen since covering high school football. In their morning session, they stacked two large pads on top of each other. An offensive player stood at one end holding a ball, and a defensive player was instructed to strike and fully tackle him in a painless, heavily-cushioned exercise.

In their evening session, players ran diagonally and were tackled into another set of cushions.

You might think that NFL players should already know how to tackle, and you might wonder how much tackling can affect pass defense. So I asked defensive coordinator Dom Capers to explain it all. (Think in terms of limiting yards after the catch.)

"I think all good defenses are really good tackling defenses," Capers said. "It's kind of a lost art. Part of it is once the salary cap came in, you were very limited on players and had to be careful about tackling guys in camp. We're trying to get as much as we can into those bags over there, including the follow-through and finish.

"Because what I've seen happen to tackling drills is that nobody finishes because you have to take those guys to the ground. So we have the pads there so you can tackle the guys through and finish, and take the guy to the ground, and you're being safe as far as injury.

"It's always driven me crazy that when guys do tackling drills, they just tag off. Because that's not the way it happens. You've got to wrap, you've got to drive, you've got to shoot your hips. You've got to follow through with the techniques as close as they're going to be on Sunday and eliminate the injury problem."

So there you go. Those tackling drills aren't the only measures the Packers have taken to address the pass defense, but they sure do help us close the book on McCarthy's comments in March.

Let's hit a few other camp observations before calling it a night: