David Shaw: 'If you practice without contact, you're practicing bad habits'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Thursday March 03, 2016

David Shaw says it’s impossible to be a tough football team without tackling in practice.

The Ivy League is set to ban full-contact tackling during regular season practice. That’s not a huge change, as schools don’t tackle much during the season anymore, but Dartmouth’s Buddy Teevens banned all practice tackling in 2010 and said missed tackles were cut in half. Two different coaches with two different opinions. 

Shaw says there’s little tackling during the season, but you can’t take it out of the offseason and still build a tough program.

“No. Impossible. It’s impossible,” he said on The Herd. “I’m looking at our cover page from our practice last night. The majority of our practices, all of them, are teaching. They are fast, but there’s not a lot of contact. There’s a of individual time, skelly time, individual instruction time. But there’s going to be a 12-15-play team period where we’re going to hit each other. We’re going to push each other around. There’s going to be some contact. That’s how you play the game."

Shaw pointed to the NFL, which has dramatically cut down on offseason tackling, but he says tackling fundamentals have dropped off.

“You and I know a lot of people who play and coach in the NFL, and the thing I’ve heard over the last three years is that the offseasons have been better, physically, for the players, which is a great thing,” Shaw said, “but I’ve heard a lot of players and coaches say, ‘It might be better if we hit just a little bit more. I’ve got a rookie linebacker that doesn’t know how to fill the gap. For me to do my job, he’s got to do his job.’ Tackling in the NFL has gotten worse in the last few years.”

But that doesn’t mean Shaw is going to drive his players into the ground. He pointed to the Pac-12 limiting schools to two full-contact practices during the season, even though schools don’t even typically reach that threshold.

We’re making sure we play this game as safely as possible, but doggone it, this is a contact sport,” he said. “If people are going to pay money, they want to see great football, and great football involves big-time linebackers hitting guys and running backs who know how to avoid that, and when they do get tackled, they drag a guy three more yards for a first down. I’d hate to take the football out of football.”

Shaw also told ESPN’s Championship Drive podcast, “If you practice without contact, you’re practicing with bad habits. Now, I’ll say this: none of us tackle during the season. While the season is going on, nobody tackles anybody. That’s not a change for any of us. Where tackling is important for me is spring football and training camp. That’s where you teach it.”

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.