PHILADELPHIA — DeSean Jackson caught Michael Vick’s pass over the middle, took a couple steps and braced himself for a hit that Kurt Coleman never delivered.
Hard to break the habit.
Jackson and the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles have nothing to worry about this training camp. Tackling is a no-no for coach Chip Kelly.
“We have four preseason games for that,” Kelly said.
When 30,000 fans came to Lincoln Financial Field to see the Eagles’ first practice in full pads under Kelly, they saw fast-paced, up-tempo action. But they didn’t see any hitting.
That was a shock, particularly to older fans who watched physical summer practices when Andy Reid, Buddy Ryan and Dick Vermeil coached the Eagles.
“It’s like they’re playing two-hand touch now,” said longtime fan Joe Iazulla. “They don’t even hit each other anymore. It’s sissy football.”
No tackling is new to the Eagles, but it’s become normal around the NFL. Teams have been trending toward less physical camps in recent years.
The league is being sued by about 4,200 players who say they suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological conditions, which they believe stem from on-field concussions.
Kelly’s explanation is injury prevention, though he’s already lost three players for the season to ACL tears in the first two weeks of camp.
Far more AFC teams tackle in camp than in the NFC. The New York Jets, Miami, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Denver and San Diego tackle to the ground to some degree whether it’s scrimmages, 9-on-7 drills or goal-line situations.
In the NFC, Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, Green Bay and Dallas have tackled to the ground on rare occasions such as open scrimmages for fans.
“We used to tackle in every drill,” said Brian Baldinger, an offensive lineman for Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Dallas from 1982-93. “There’s a science to tackling and maintaining proper technique. You can only get better at it by practicing and now they don’t even practice it.”
Many coaches yell at players if they hit teammates too hard and nobody wants to see scuffles anymore. It’s a far cry from the days of Buddy Ryan and his rugged defense in Philadelphia.
“Buddy used to encourage guys he knew wouldn’t make the team to start fights,” Cobb said.
Now, it’s all about wrapping up instead of tackling and hugging instead of hitting.
“It is what it is,” Tennessee defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said.