There’s a reason the Seattle Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” has become a household nickname synonymous with the secondary’s penchant for free-spirited mayhem.
When strong safety Kam Chancellor delivers a violent body slam that dazes an opponent, fans at CenturyLink Field enjoy the videoboard replay almost as much as Chancellor’s teammates. But the occasional G-force hit masks a less celebrated aspect about the defense.
The Seahawks stress fundamentally sound tackling principles that minimize the risk of head and neck injuries without compromising the premise of football as the ultimate contact sport.
“It’s a major emphasis for us,” defensive backs coach Kris Richard said before the team’s Wednesday practice. “At some point, every single day, we’re going to work at tackling. We re-emphasize what players have been taught about tackling since they were kids: Put it on your shoulder, eyes up, to the thigh, wrap, grab and roll. That’s always worked.
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“You’ll play longer — and you want to have a long, successful career — if you do things right.”
It’s not difficult connecting the dots between Richard’s commitment to orthodox tackling techniques and the long-held beliefs of Pete Carroll, who hired Richard at USC and kept him aboard through Carroll’s relocation to Seattle. Carroll’s insistence on tackling the right way — leading with a shoulder and keeping the head out of it — prompted him to produce an instructional video last year with defensive passing game coordinator Rocky Seto.
More than 14,000 high school coaches acquired the video, as did thousands of youth league coaches. The enthusiasm of their feedback surprised him, and when Hall of Fame coach John Madden offered a thumbs-up, Carroll knew he had struck a chord within the football community.
“He called me,” said Carroll, joking that it took him a moment to realize Madden — and not impressionist Frank Caliendo — was on the telephone line. “He asked, ‘Where has this been? We’ve needed this.’ It was a really big statement that showed we’re on the right track.
“This is just the start,” Carroll continued. “I think there are other steps that will help us continue to get the head out of football and make the game safer than it’s ever been.”
Carroll draws a parallel between football and its biological father, rugby. If a rugby player is using correct tackling form, the absence of a helmet is irrelevant.
“We can practice tackling now without our helmets on,” Carroll said. “That’s a really good statement of affecting this game in a positive way. There is a lot more to come if we follow this up properly.”
Meanwhile, if you’re curious about why Seattle’s 2014 defense led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the third consecutive season, consider this stat: 1.35 yards allowed after contact. No defense averaged fewer.
“We work on tackling, like how to use your leverage shoulder and how to use a teammate coming on for an assist,” linebacker K.J. Wright said. “I think that’s what makes us such a great defense. We’re the best fundamental team in football, and we know that details — being good tacklers — win football games.”
Fellow linebacker Bobby Wagner offered another explanation.
“More guys around the league are worried now about being fined for a ‘helmet-to-helmet’ than being able to make a tackle right,” he said. “On our team, we’re not worried about being fined.”
Just because the Seahawks are versed in the details of proper tackling does not mean they’re prohibited from wiping somebody out every now and then. Richard understands the entertainment component of a booming tackle.
“There’s an emphasis now on big hits and things of that nature,” he said. “You start to get more head-hunting because it’s glorified. Everybody’s trying to make a big hit versus a sound play.
“There’s a time for a big hit, but it has to be calculated and measured. If it makes sense and you can get to a guy’s strike zone, then you deliver the blow. Other than that?
“Wrap ’em up and get ’em down.”
“Legion of Boom” is an inspired moniker that figures to define Carroll’s burgeoning dynasty for generations. But the secondary — and the defense in general — does not dominate because of its big-hit tackles.
The Seahawks’ defense dominates because every guy on the field is a well-practiced wrap artist.