AFTER last year’s season-ending injury to FS Rod McLeod, S Corey Graham stepped in as our starter. Graham is a seasoned NFL veteran, who’d already played a year in this system, with this team. He’s solid as far diagnosing plays, and has good ball-skills. The only problem with him is, he’s an ankle-biter.
Ankle-biters are defensive players who frequently make “business decisions”, instead of striking through opponents. To avoid taking any punishment themselves, they dive at legs and feet instead of making chest up, wrap-up tackles. They attempt to make stops by tripping an opponent up, or leading with a shoulder, while their head is turned away from their target.
Ankle-biting is not only cowardly, but it leads to too many missed tackles, and free yardage. It allows ball carries to “fall forward”, which is often the difference between a punt and a first down. It also means that there is no chance to cause a fumble.
Notice however, that I don’t say that they should be cut from the team. Ankle-biters do have a place on an NFL roster. On every NFL roster, in fact. As poor performers, they can function in ways that no All-Pro player ever could.
Adopting and adapting the tactic of Andy Reid, he made an example of a poor performing veteran, in favor of a young player with upside, once that veteran gave him the opening.
Older Eagles fans my recall George Hegamin. For those who do not, or who likely have (justifiably) forgotten him, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
“with the arrival of new head coach Andy Reid, (Hegamin) walked out of training camp for one day, after being told of his demotion in favor of rookie Doug Brzezinski. When he came back, Reid made him push a blocking sled the length of a practice field under the heat, in front of some players, coaches, executives and the media. He eventually was cut on September 4, 1999.”
So you add a few, but keep just a couple. Poor tacklers make NFL rosters every single year, because frequently these players have other skills that give them specific situational value.
One specific situation, is when ball-skills are needed. Hail Marys, Prevent, Picket Fence, or anytime the object is to discourage the ball being thrown to a specific receiver, are all examples of this situation. At which point, tackling becomes less of a priority.
Another specific condition would be the Gunner position on punt returns. When the object is to quickly get down-field, and herd the returner into an area of containment, speed is the most important asset. So yet again, outright tackling becomes less of a priority.
Yet a third specific situation, is in developing young players. If a more veteran player loses playing time to a younger player, because that young player makes better tackles, it tells the young guy to keep doing what he’s doing. Keep seeing what he hits. Keep wrapping up. Keep striking through opponents. Once more, good tackling is less of a priority.
A poor tackler can even be used to make a few good tacklers. If he sits. Subbing in a poor tackler due to injury is one thing. However, when you start a poor tackler among your original 11 (for example us starting CB Ronald Darby), it sends the wrong message, and can stall development throughout the secondary.
There are likely other situations, but you get the idea. These players are not completely without value. So keep a couple ankle-biters, just mostly sit them.