Extra Points: Trending away from tackling

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Updated: 8/10/2013 12:13 pm

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Innovation is the word most often associated with first-year Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

And it's usually used in regard to the Oregon offense which sliced and diced the Pac-12 en route to BCS Bowl berths. You know, things like the read-option looks, the up-tempo basketball on turf mentality, the exotic formations that often have defenders turning their heads and pointing in confusion.

But there are plenty of other out of the box theories Kelly has embraced. Everything from his sports science coordinator to the music he blares out at practice to the smoothies he encourages his players to drink when they leave the practice field.

One of his more unconventional beliefs really stood out to me at training camp, though, and that's the fact that his teams don't tackle at training camp -- I mean like not at all.

"When you get guys on the ground, it's not really the two guys that get tackled, it's what's chasing it," Kelly explained when talking about his philosophy earlier in training camp. "We're trying to keep everybody in every situation up. You have a lot of big bodies moving. There's a fine line what we have to get done from a work standpoint."

If you were wondering why tackling has become a lost art and a form tackler like Seattle's Antoine Winfield is a true dinosaur understand it's not just about fundamentals. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement put in place before the 2011 season severely limited padded practices and so-called live periods where teams can go at each other at full speed.

So "thuds" have become all the rage around the league, contact drills where you hit full speed but can't go to the ground. That said, virtually every team in the NFL still has certain periods when they truly go live and really do tackle.

For Kelly and the Eagles, however, those scant periods only come in individual drills.

"We have tackled to the ground," a defensive Kelly said after losing his preseason opener, 31-22, to a New England team which amassed nearly 250 rushing yards. "We did a live tackling drill last Tuesday, and we'll continue to do those live tackling drills. I think our guys are getting tackling in practice. We just don't tackle in 11-on-11. I think we did it in the Sunday practice. We'll continue to work on that stuff."

It's really not all that hard to see a method to this madness. Common sense says less contact means fewer injuries and for someone like me, who spends his time banging a keyboard, that's undoubtedly true.

However, for another who spends his life in a particularly violent sport which at its bare essence is about contact, it might not be so cut and dry.

The Eagles have already lost two receivers -- Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn -- along with linebacker Jason Phillips to torn ACLs in camp without significant contact. And when things ramped up against New England on Friday, long snapper Jon Dorenbos went down with a possible concussion in the second quarter, and reserve linebackers Jamar Cheney (shoulder), Clay Matthews (left knee) and Chris McCoy (left knee) were all forced to leave early.

The Eagles' defenders looked lost against the Patriots. On the game's first offensive play, Philadelphia defensive end Fletcher Cox was blown off the ball and inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans missed his gap as Pats running back Stevan Ridley gashed through the middle for a 62-yard gain. Tom Brady handed it off five consecutive times from there with Ridley capping things with a 1-yard touchdown run.

To proponents of thuds like Kelly it was like having 10,000 spoons when all he needed was a knife and while Alanis Morisette never captured the actual definition of irony, you get the point.

Ridley piled up 92 rushing yards on just eight carries before he left while LeGarrett Blount, who starred under Kelly at Oregon, was even better for the Pats, biting his old coach with 101 yards on 11 carries, including either a brilliant zig-zagging 51-yard TD run or a Keystone Kops reenactment depending on which sideline you saw it from. New England finished the game with an imposing 248 rushing yards on 31 attempts.

"I think there were a couple of missed tackles out there," Kelly understated. "I've seen LeGarrett do that a couple of times when I coached him. He's a big strong physical back and you have to get a lot of guys to the ball. We missed a gap on the first long run to start the game. We'll watch the film and make sure we understand exactly what happened and try to correct those mistakes."

Correct them by actually practicing tackling in practice?

"We weren't going to do it (tackling) with the Patriots," Kelly said referring to the fact New England was in South Philadelphia for a series of joint practices during the week before the game. "Bill (Belichick) did not want to do it. We believe in tackling in practice when you do it in isolated drills. The biggest thing isn't the guy tackling, it's the pileup that occurs and what's going to fall over them.

"We do need to live tackle. There's a fine line in terms of what you have to do, but we believe that if we can do it in an isolated situation, we'll tackle and take to the ground."

Think of it this way -- we can all agree calloused hands serve a man doing physical labor well.

Repetitions are so important in football not just for the repetitive nature of muscle memory but also for building up a tolerance for the series of small car crashes a football player's body is going to go through each and every week.

The road to hell is almost always paved with good intentions but there are always unintended consequences to any action, and the butterfly effect then takes hold.

Right now too many NFL coaches are entering games with players who may be prepared mentally but not physically for the grind they are about to endure. And the thuds designed to protect them are quickly turning into a dud of an idea.

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