By: Al Bello Getty Images Sport
(USA TODAY) - San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner believes that many of the concussion concerns currently dominating discussion in the NFL could be avoided if defensive players were taught better techniques earlier in their development.
Asked Wednesday what percentage of current NFL defenders don't know how to properly tackle, Whitner answered, "Somewhere near 50."
"You have guys just running in there diving at people's feet. Somewhere you have guys just running in there hoping to make the tackle," Whitner said. "If you look at our film and the way our tackling techniques are, we're not perfect, but I guarantee our techniques are better than a lot of teams in the National Football League."
Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who, like Whitner, made the Pro Bowl this season, echoed his teammate's assessment.
"I agree with that totally. Guys want those big hits. Guys want those game changing plays. But at the end of the day, your job is to go tackle the guy," said Bowman, San Francisco's leading tackler in 2012. "If you tackled him, you give your team the best shot to get off the field the next play. You shoot your gun and you miss, and the play goes for about 60 yards for a touchdown. You see guys all the time overrunning plays and not playing fundamental, sound football. We like to pride ourselves on doing that, even in practice."
Whitner credits new Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for drilling fundamentals into him when he coached him at Ohio State in the early 2000s. While the proper techniques help him play better defense, Whitner claims they could also protect the game's legacy.
"There are ways to play the game the right way and not be injured. There's a lot of players out there on defense who think that flying in and diving headfirst is showing toughness," Whitner said. "That's not the way to play the game.
"My son is going to start playing next year. He's playing flag football right now. He's 6 years old. I'm going to take it upon myself to teach him the techniques - how to tackle and things to do. ... You need to know what you can and can't do on the football field. If I'm 170 pounds, there's no way I'm going to run in there and hit somebody who's 240 pounds head up. Some guys are afraid to tackle on the football field. So when a guy comes through they close their eyes and duck their head. That's not the way to play football. You're gonna hurt your neck, you're gonna get a concussion."