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  • Writer's pictureTerry O'Neil

NJ Schools Scrimmaging Like Rams-Raiders

For the first time ever in high school football, a statewide series of no-tackling "thud" scrimmages is being played during the current pre-season.  The schedule of four New Jersey scrimmages begins this morning with Timber Creek High at Willingboro Highand will continue through August 27.

Rules of engagement in "thud" are full pads, full speed, all contact above the waist, no tackling to the ground, everyone stays on his feet; a play is whistled dead when defenders wrap or tag a ball carrier, holding him upright.  "Thud" is the practice format preferred by nearly all NFL teams, even though they are permitted full contact every day in training camp.  It's the format on display this week in HBO's Hard Knocks coverage of a Los Angeles Rams-Oakland Raiders joint practice (see image above).

The New Jersey initiative is inspired by new contact limits which are the most restrictive in the history of the game at any level.  Reaction among New Jersey coaches has been overwhelmingly positive:

Buena Regional High Coach Jon Caputo last week told the Press of Atlantic City that his team has not tackled in practice for the past four years.  He said, "I'm all for this.  I feel like last season we had our best tackling team yet.  It won't affect the game if you teach it right in practice.  I don't think it'll make the game any less physical.  It's still going to be the same game Friday night and Saturday."

Midland Regional High Coach Chuck Smith was quoted:  "I think it's very beneficial.  The number one priority has always been the safety of our players.  Right now, there are a lot of safety concerns in this sport, and something has to be done about it."

Lakeland Regional High Coach Tom McCormack messaged:  "We use sleds, doughnuts (tackle rings), shields and weebles (stand-up, self-righting dummies) to promote better skills and tackling, instead of hitting player-on-player all the time." Bordentown High Coach Skip Edwards, who attended New York Giants Coach Pat Shurmur's presentation in April to the New Jersey Football Coaches Association (NJFCA) Clinic, messaged, "We're going to try to practice like Pat Shurmur explained."

California Participation Drop: 12% in 4 Years

The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), governing body of state athletics, earlier this month reported that California high school football participation dropped by 3.1% in 2018 to a 20-year low.  Over the past four seasons, the decline is 12%, totaling more than 12,000 players.

Eric Sondheimer, prep sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tweeted, "The decline is real and serious."

What to do about it?

USA Today's Cam Smith wrote, "'s time for everyone to think more creatively about how to get student-athletes involved in the game.  There isn't a perfect answer, but it's definitely time for California to try something more drastic to arrest the slide."

PLP founder Terry O'Neil responded, "The 'something more drastic' that USA Todayadvocates may be a sharp reduction in practice contact.  California recently reduced from 180 full-contact minutes in regular season to 90.  But the national standard was established this year when Michigan went to 30 minutes and New Jersey to 15.  Before signing consent forms, parents want to know that everything possible is being done to protect their children.  Reduced practice contact sends the correct message."

Later this month, the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) will release 2018 participation data for all 50 states. 

Jon Gruden on Practicing Full Speed in Shorts

During a training camp news conference this month, Oakland Raiders Coach Jon Gruden spoke about practicing full speed in shorts (no pads), a format he first appreciated as an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers in 1990.  Gruden said:

"You've got to practice in shorts, and you've got to practice with speed in shorts.  And if you know how to do it, and you practice doing it, and you enforce how you do it, you got a chance to really be good at it.  That's the one thing I took from the 49ers when I was there years ago.  We had all these Hall of Fame great players, and they practiced fast, and they practiced in baseball hats!  Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott.  There were never collisions.  There was a lot of respect and cooperation, and a lot of intelligence about how they wanted to get things done.  We've shown video of old 49ers film, we've shown good and bad examples of our stuff, and around the League.  And guys are getting better at it."

Here's a link to this 40-second sound bite from Gruden:

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