As head coach of Ohio State football for seven seasons, Urban Meyer had his share of causes.
One of them was preserving the gridiron game itself as reports about the potential long-term health effects for players mounted and participation among young people declined.
Along with a high-powered spread offense, “Real Life Wednesdays,” and not wearing blue around the football facility, add that to the list of things Ryan Day is continuing after taking over for Meyer in January.
“I just think that we have an obligation to Ohio and to our game,” Day told reporters Tuesday night prior to a youth tackling clinic at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “It’s kind of come under attack here the last couple of years, and we want to make sure we’re protecting these kids and teaching things the right way.”
Day, who earlier this month shared a list of football health talking points from the NFL on Twitter, also implied reducing head injuries could serve a public relations purpose in the future.
“Every concussion that is avoided is something that’s going to be a statistic down the road in our favor, so these are just the conversations and it’s our obligation to make sure we’re out here talking about those things,” he said.
The event for area youth coaches Tuesday night was the second of its kind at Ohio State, which also held one around the same time last year.
Alex Grinch, who has since left to become the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, put on that one while new linebackers coach Al Washington took the lead this time around before being replaced by fellow staffer Matt Thurin when Washington had to leave to go on a recruiting trip.
>>READ MORE: How Ohio State wants tackling taught
Washington presented the five types of tackling Ohio State teaches — the profile tackle, the roll tackle, the “sweep the ankle” tackle, the compression tackle and the goal line tackle.
The profile tackle is the one most people picture when they think of a football play — a defender sizing up a ball-carrier from the front or side and moving in to take them down.
The roll tackle is what they teach players to employ when a ball carrier starts to get away and must be taken down from a trailing position while sweeping the ankle is what they teach as a desperation move when a ball carrier is pulling away.
The “compression tackle” involves two tacklers corralling a ball carrier together while the goal line tackle is the only one where they actually teach defenders to make contact high because they must stop any forward progress in that situation.
Most of the instructions were accompanied by clips of Ohio State practicing various ways to practice each technique, and both assistants pointed out players were able to carry out most of the drills in practice without helmets or shoulder pads.
That is important as it both reduces the amount of full-contact time during practices and increases the amount of time that can be devoted to developing good tackling habits.
The expectation is that over time players will develop muscle memory they will carry into full-contact practices and games that will allow them to be effective tacklers without involving their heads any more than necessary.
Washington, who also spent time on pursuit angles and tracking ball carriers to get in position to make a tackle, is a central Ohio native who said he is happy to be back home trying to give back to the community and develop better football players.
“Back when I was coming up — it wasn’t too long ago — I think the tackle emphasis was more contact,” said Washington, a 35-year-old father of two (son Michael, daughter Audrey). “I think now there is more emphasis on body position, footwork.”
He himself grew up in a football family as the son of an Ohio State linebacker, Al Washington Sr., and confirmed styles of tackling have evolved over the years.
“I think the best tacklers are the best athletes,” Washington said. “I think it has evolved with information, with study, I think everybody takes a lot more time obviously with safety being the main reason but also being more efficient, so it has evolved.”
In addition to the two tackling clinics, Ohio State held a “big man” clinic last summer at Northmont High School.
There offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and defensive line coach Larry Johnson presented coaching and playing techniques designed for developing players for the trenches on each side of the ball.
As with tackling, they emphasized keeping the head out of contact as much as possible.
To do that requires greater use of the hands and arms to gain leverage and control of an opponent.
Johnson, in particular, has gained acclaim in football circles for his ability to teach defensive linemen to fend off blockers with a variety of moves that have impressed NFL coaches and scouts studying his players.
Studrawa told Cox Media Group Ohio this spring the big man clinic was very well received.
"We’ve already gotten calls about when are Larry and I doing those again in the spring, so it’s taken off big time,” he said.
“The truth of the matter is the number of big kids like that, they’re not playing football. Youth football numbers have been down so to be able to go out and promote the game and go tell those kids it’s going to be fun (is important).
“Don’t make a big kid run 25 laps and fall and puke. You’re taking away his love for the game, and that’s the No. 1 thing Larry and I wanted to go out and do was get these big kids to come play. Get them to love football again. Don’t be so hard that you’re driving them out of the love for the game. That’s what’s happening. They’re not playing. We go around the country and look for guys.”
According to the National Federation of High School Associations, 42,637 boys played high school football in Ohio in 2017 (the most recent year available). That was 147 more than the previous year, a modest increase but one that followed a seven-year dip of more than 12,000.
(Notably the major drop in participation from 2009-16 came after a nearly identical increase from 2003-08.)
Tuesday night, Day expressed a belief the current trends — which almost certainly stem from multiple influences, including concussion concerns — will not continue.
“It’s gonna be investment down the road,” he said. "I think if we look back here in 10 years the numbers will be much different.”
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