Most of the time, the half-hour viewing window we get at the beginning of Pitt's practices are pretty uneventful. It's mostly just stretching and maybe an occasional special teams drill. Today, though, we got to see a little bit of an interesting tidbit as defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable worked with his defenders on tackling, with one caveat: They weren't allowed to use their arms.
The defenders shuffled laterally, then ran into a ball-carrier with their arms behind their backs and tackled him into a mat.
"Our last football game, which was quite a while ago, we didn’t tackle very well," Huxtable said. "That whole drill is teaching them to take the extra step to contact. I think one of the biggest mistakes in tackling is defenders stop their feet, they leap off the launch pad and the first thing they do is reach with their arms."
This was the first time Huxtable did this particular drill with the defense this season, though he said he has done it with other units in the past.
"Tackling is the most important defensive fundamental," Huxtable said. "You can do everything right from a position, technique, alignment, reading a key correctly, being where you’re supposed to be, defeating a block, taking a proper angle to the ball, but if you can’t tackle at the end of it, all of that was kind of for nothing."
Linebacker Todd Thomas said it was a little tough at first, but he saw the point behind the drills.
"Some of us, including myself, go off the launching pad, instead of bringing my feet and gathering my feet," Thomas said. "That was more just to get your technique right."
While Huxtable noted that he thought the team's tackling has improved 12 weeks into the season, there's still plenty of room for improvement, as evidenced by the Connecticut game two weeks ago. One of the biggest keys, he said, was approaching every drill -- even non-contact drills -- as if you're making a tackle. So even if it's just a tag-out drill, you're in position to make a tackle.
"I think we still have a ways to go. I think we have gotten better. I think if you go all the way back to the beginning of the year, it was ugly," Huxtable said. "But I think I’ve seen some improvement in that area. Are we where we want to be yet? Hell no. We’re not. I tell the players that. That’s why we’re working it. We’re not anywhere [near] where we want to be yet, but the first key in tackling is wanting to tackle."