Wednesday's Practice: Tackling Dummies

Although the first-team defense has done a great job keeping two preseason opponents out of the end zone, they have given up an awful lot of yards between the 20's. Sloppy tackling seems to be the root cause, but considering the Bears do next to no live contact on their own in practice, what can the team do to improve? Several Bears defenders weigh-in on the supposed tackling issue.

There are very few complaints Bears fans can make about the performance of the starting defense through Week 2 of the preseason. They surrendered a field goal to Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers after a turnover by the offense in the opener, and they also only allowed three points to Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers last Friday. However, Brian Urlacher & Company have given up chunks of yards in stretches, and much of the blame can be associated with sloppy tackling.

"Yards don't win games," Brian Urlacher said prior to Monday's practice at Halas Hall. "I've said that my whole career. Points win games."

That may be true, but it's a lot easier for the opposing team to eventually score those points when Rivers escapes should-have-been sacks in the backfield and completes a 21-yard pass to Malcolm Floyd as he tippy-toes the left sideline. And when Michael Turner breaks tackles at the line of scrimmage and trucks cornerback Charles Tillman downfield on his way to a 45-yard scamper, good teams are going to turn those defensive mistakes into touchdowns if given the chance.

The Bears do very little live hitting during training camp, and that could have a lot to do with the obvious rust some of the defenders are showing out on the field. That being said, head coach Lovie Smith doesn't agree that his no-tackling practice routine is contributing to all the missed tackles we've seen in the preseason thus far.

"We tackle each week," he said after Wednesday's session. "(It's the) same routine I've used the 10 years I've been in the league this week. We don't put guys to the ground, and we're not going to start."

Despite Tillman getting shooed away like a fly by Turner last Friday night, the fourth-year cornerback feels that the coaching staff knows what they're doing when it comes to putting together their practice schedule.

"I think coach Smith did (an) excellent job of planning our training camp," he said. "We went live a couple days as far as goalline. It was cool. Basically, you're really not trying to get any guys hurt. All these players in here – Vash (Nathan Vasher), Olin (Kreutz), Brian (Urlacher), Lance (Briggs), Adewale (Ogunleye), Rex (Grossman) – all these guys are worth X-amount of dollars or key players on this team. You really don't want to get them hurt in practice or (a) drill or anything like that. So I think coach Smith's way was good. I think he planned training camp well."

Although he is a new addition to the Bears this season, fellow corner Dante Wesley echoed Tillman's sentiments. He knows this team is capable of tackling as well as any in the league, but he doesn't offer any suggestions as to why everyone seems to struggle with it early in the season.

"Really, it's really hard to say," he said. "I feel like we are professionals, and tackling's a part of football. If you can't tackle now, you would have never made it. Tackling to me is not really a big issue that needs to be stressed. Like I said, we're professionals. We know how to tackle. That's one thing we can do in our sleep. So tackling is not a problem."

Linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer is far from concerned about the mishaps he and his mates have had on defense through two exhibition games. According to him, this is typical in the early going, and not just for professional players.

"I don't think it's something you can work on that much in practice," he said. "That's part of the reason you play preseason games. If you watch any level of football – opening week of college football, NFL – there's lots of missed tackles. That's probably one of things that we probably do benefit the most from as far as preseason games. Things like that tend to work themselves out as we get closer to the regular season."

Week 3 of the preseason is always the best gauge of where a football team stands for the upcoming campaign. Most of the starters will play into the third quarter, and coaching staffs will be game-planning almost as much as they would for a regular season game. If Edgerrin James runs past a few sloppy arm tackles and Anquan Boldin muscles his way through the secondary after a catch, this might be a bigger problem than the Bears want us to believe.

Let's hope they put these concerns to rest while putting the Cardinals on the ground early and often Friday night at Soldier Field.


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