SEATTLE — In the middle of a football practice at the University of Washington last spring, two assistant coaches suddenly charged each other, collided and ended up rolling around on the ground.
This was not a fight, nor was it even roughhousing. It actually happened in the name of safety.
When co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake sunk his shoulder into graduate assistant Terrence Brown’s midsection, he wasn’t doing it to teach the young coach a lesson, but to teach the Huskies’ players a lesson: That there was a more effective and safer way to tackle — so safe, it could be done without wearing a helmet.
It involves aiming for the area between the bottom of a ball carrier’s jersey number and the top of the knee, hitting with the shoulder instead of the head by attempting to put the tackler’s cheek on ball carrier’s butt cheek, and emphasizing the arm clamp and a tight wrap.
Lake’s demonstration of the rugby-style technique was a sharp contrast to how most Washington players learned to play defense as kids. Linebacker Azeem Victor, the team’s leading tackler in 2015 and the recipient of a team award for toughness, recalls running drills as a youth that involved two players running at each other, helmet-first.
“I’m kind of like a wild player,” Victor said. “It’s just my style. I just throw myself in there. There would be times where it would hurt.
“But if you do this technique, your body doesn’t feel like it’s been beaten up after games. So I was like, cool, I’m sticking with that. The less ice, the better.”
Huskies coach Chris Petersen is trying to save not only his players by introducing the new tackling technique but also the game in an era of increased awareness of concussions and CTE.