To tackle or not to tackle in practice? Miami Dolphins, Steelers a study in contrasts

Dolphins guard Ted Larsen (62), who has a biceps tear, works against guard Isaac Asiata (68) in Davie. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Coaches know going hard in practice carries risks and rewards. So does going easy.

Still, it was hard to read Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback this week, on how both the Steelers and Seahawks go after one another in their respective practices, and not contrast it with the philosophy employed by the Dolphins — and just about every other NFL team.

King recounted witnessing the physical Oklahoma one-on-one drill during his visit to Steelers camp. He wrote how the Steelers and Seahawks conducted “by far” the most physical workouts of the 17 he has attended. He quoted coach Pete Carroll as saying the Seahawks go “right to the edge” with tackling.

“Preparing to play without the physical part is like asking a boxer to go in and fight without sparring,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told King. “There is a certain hardening that has to happen to your group individually and collectively, I believe, through this process. I believe live tackling not only aids in that, but is kind of central to that. That’s why we made the conscious effort to have at least 12 to 15 snaps a day of live football. It provides an opportunity, it sets the pace, it gives a certain urgency, in your group.”

The Dolphins made news July 31 when they came out for practice in full pads and tackled to the ground. On most days, they use a cross between tackling and stepped-up two-hand touch. Plus, quarterbacks wear red jerseys, signifying they’re off-limits.

Yet as every Dolphins fan knows, Miami has had miserable luck with injuries — not just this season, but dating back to last season, too. Already this summer, the Dolphins have lost QB Ryan Tannehill, CB Tony Lippett and LB Raekwon McMillan for the season. Tannehill had an ongoing knee problem. Lippett (Achilles) and McMillan (knee) essentially suffered non-contact injuries. And RB Jay Ajayi suffered a concussion when hit by safety T.J. McDonald in the July 31 practice.

“You’re not going to win either way,” coach Adam Gase told reporters. “If we don’t go live, you guys write that we don’t work on tackling. If we do go live and somebody gets hurt, then you say we shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to be wrong either way. We feel like that’s best for our football team. We needed to go live and tackle and it’s football.”

Dolphins linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who played for the Steelers last season, would not compare the two approaches when asked by The Post’s Joe Schad.

Most teams today go the minimal-contact route because of the injury risk, including an attempt to minimize concussions.

“I think there is probably a propensity for increased injury in the stadium if you haven’t done this,” Tomlin told King. “So from that perspective, I am willing to present an argument that one approach is not any more safe. The bottom line is, you better find ways to impose your will on your opponent. Sometimes that’s physical, but sometimes it’s conditioning, sometimes it’s mental.”

King pointed out that Tomlin’s record is 111-63 (averaging 11.1 wins per year) and Carroll’s is 113-79-1 (10.2). Both have won Super Bowls in the past decade.

Last season, the Seahawks ranked fifth in total defense, with the Steelers 12th and the Dolphins 29th. In scoring defense, the Seahawks were No. 3, Steelers No. 10 and Dolphins No. 18.

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