Tackling is the theme of the week for Mike Singletary.
In August, Singletary began his first training camp as 49ers head coach with intense tackling drills. His players were in full pads from the start, hitting each other in nearly every practice.
Now, improved tackling is what Singletary is calling for from San Francisco’s defense heading into a key NFC West game at Seattle on Sunday. But the 49ers are no longer practicing it, having quit wearing pads about two weeks ago after some players made the suggestion to Singletary.
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It’s not as if the tackling has been poor – the Niners‘ rushing defense ranks fifth in the NFL. Yet Singletary, a defensive-minded guy to the core considering he’s a Hall of Fame linebacker, is always looking for more from this talented veteran unit.
“We have some guys, they don’t just want to tackle, they want to blow people up,” Singletary said. “We’ve got to do a better job breaking down and just making the tackle.”
Singletary named safety Dashon Goldson as one of those players who always wants the big hit. Goldson didn’t deny it, saying “I take my shots.”
But he said the defensive players need to be smart about doing so, taking proper angles and picking their opportunities wisely. Goldson is in his first season starting at free safety for the 49ers (5-6) and is second on the team with 73 tackles. He also has two interceptions, one sack and a forced fumble.
“It’s all about attitude,” Goldson said of the art of tackling. “It’s not really a concern. We just know we’ve missed a few. We make a lot, too. We make a lot more than we miss, so that’s always good.”
Linebacker Patrick Willis has a team-leading 107 tackles, including a hit on Matt Hasselbeck in Week 2 that knocked the Seahawks‘ quarterback out of the game with broken ribs and a back injury. He still hasn’t completely healed even though he only missed the next two games.
“It’s a focus every week. If you want to be a great defense, tackling is the No. 1 thing you have to do,” Willis said. “For whatever reason, we’re men and we know that in order to have a good defense and to play good defense, you have to tackle. That’s something we have to take upon ourselves. We can’t work on it during the week and kill each other and tackle each other, but we can work on it by how we go to the ball, good feet, just small things we can do to help us during the season.”
Seattle coach Jim Mora knows the challenges of trying to improve tackling at this stage of the season. It doesn’t make sense to practice it, he said.
“You can’t, because you risk injuring a player who’s very valuable to you,” Mora said. “This time of the year some players are beat up and need some recovery time. A lot of tackling is just the will to do it as well. You hope you have the right guys.”
San Francisco has a relentless bunch that prides itself on getting after the quarterback. In Sunday’s 20-3 win over the Jaguars, linebackers Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson each had a second-half sack on Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard that led to a lost fumble.
The 49ers‘ 25 sacks so far are only five shy of their total from last season, when their 30 sacks ranked 16th in the NFL. Yet the players know it’s not always about making the big play, but often times just getting the routine stop when it matters.
“Since it’s this late in the season we’re not really going to be doing much practicing hitting, because bodies are sore,” cornerback Dre’ Bly said. “Just try to focus on wrapping up as much as we can. We’re going to be playing some tough backs. We have to do a better job of tackling. Tackling is key, especially late in the season when you’re playing cold games. When it’s cold outside, teams enjoy running the football a lot.”
NOTES: Goldson had his sore right hand dipped in paraffin wax and placed in a plastic bag to keep it warm. “Like a nail salon,” he said with a grin. … Haralson is nursing a bruised thumb he said isn’t serious. The other injuries: DT Kentwan Balmer (shoulder sprain), WR Josh Morgan (bruised hip), WR Arnaz Battle (leg strain), RB Michael Robinson (stinger) and WR Isaac Bruce (ankle).