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Pitt defensive coordinator teaches new tackling method

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, 8:42 p.m.
Pitt's Todd Thomas blocks the punt of Louisville's Ryan Johnson on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Todd Thomas blocks the punt of Louisville's Ryan Johnson on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012, at Heinz Field. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Pitt defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable believes he has discovered a way to reverse the shoddy practice of arm tackling — eliminate the arms.

After Pitt's 24-17 loss to Connecticut on Nov. 9, Huxtable, one of the most demanding coaches on the staff, decided he had seen enough poor tackling. This week, he began doing something about it.

Huxtable pulled a drill out of his desk drawer in which defenders lock their arms behind their backs and knock over ball carriers using nothing but their pads and chest.

“In our last football game, we didn't tackle very well,” he said. “The whole drill is teaching them to take that extra step to contact.”Huxtable said he never has used it with Pitt, but it's something he has taught in many other stops in his 31-year coaching career.

“One of the biggest mistakes in tackling is defenders stop their feet,” he said. “They leap off the launching pad and the first thing they do is reach with their arms.

“We are doing a drill to take the arms out of it and step on the toes of the ball carrier.”

Huxtable was surprised when he was asked if his drill will work Saturday when Pitt faces Big East leader Rutgers at Heinz Field.

“I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it was going to help,” he said. “I'm betting it does.”

Huxtable is impressed with Rutgers' running backs and receivers, who are always going forward after contacting defenders, he said. Running back Savon Huggins gained 179 yards on 41 carries Saturday in a 10-3 victory at Cincinnati — and he's only the backup.

Jawan Jamison, who is nursing a sprained right ankle, is second in the conference with 990 yards rushing.

“They run extremely hard,” Huxtable said. “Their feet never stop on contact (with the defender). They run really well behind their pads.”

Rutgers is only sixth in the eight-team Big East in scoring (24.6 points per game), but that's mostly a product of quarterback Gary Nova's 12 interceptions (second most in the conference).

Pitt's young defense will be seriously tested by the Scarlet Knights' running game.

Huxtable said Tuesday's practice was one of the best of the season —no small feat in the 13th week.

Outside linebacker Todd Thomas said defenders believed it's faster to jump toward the ball carrier, but they are realizing it's not nearly as efficient as Huxtable's way.

“We are going to change it around,” he said. “Everybody is doing it the right way.”

Huxtable's defense has only two seniors in the starting lineup, but it's getting better, he said.

“You go a long way back to the beginning of the year, it was ugly,” he said. “I have seen improvement.

“Are we where we want to be yet? No, we're not. I tell the players that. That's why we are working on it.

“Players are starting to work on it a lot harder and we are going to get better at it.”

A big problem has been lack of discipline, he said.

“We have to play smarter,” he said. “We made some mistakes early in the (Connecticut) game, with some guys out of position. Just a lack of focus and a lack of discipline. You can't have that in a game.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7997.

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