Dak Prescott signs autographs for fans at Dallas Cowboys camp
Dartmouth College (not university) is not synonymous with football, but the small Ivy League school in New Hampshire is winning by taking the tacking out of the game.
Or at least it has in practice.
ESPN recently published a long-form story about Dartmouth football’s unique approach to its practices, which is to basically not hit except during games.
A current Dallas Cowboy played against Dartmouth every year in college and felt what it is like to play a team that does not practice the way football typically is practiced. Center Adam Redmond, who graduated from Harvard, has heard all of this before.
“Every fall I think there was an article about Dartmouth and the blocking dummies, or their robots,” said Redmond, who graduated from Harvard in 2015. “It was a half joke - ‘Dartmouth and their robots.’ But they were one of the best defenses we played and it worked for them. But I think it was more of their guys.
“We played them and they had some of the best defenses they ever had. They were one of the hardest hitting teams we played all year. They had tough guys.”
Although coach Jason Garrett attended and played for two Ivy League schools - Columbia and Princeton - don’t expect the Dallas Cowboys to become the Dartmouth of the NFL.
“We are getting to that point where we are trying to minimize (contact) as much as possible. At least the dangerous hits,” Redmond said. “They have done a good job of recognizing what those situations are: a guy across the middle, a blindside hit. I think they have pinpointed those. But I hit someone every play so I don’t know how you can get rid of it.”
Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens implemented the no-contact policies back in 2011. Dartmouth has since relied on virtual reality, and tackling dummy robots, rather than contact in practice.
Since then, Dartmouth has posted winning records in six of the last eight seasons, and is 17-3 in the last two years. It won a share of the Ivy League title in 2015.
Dartmouth is not the first team to do this. St. John’s University, a Division III school in Minnesota, made no-tackling/hitting practices famous under coach John Gagliardi.
Under Gagliardi, St. John’s was 489-138-11 with four national championships. The only reason you don’t know about him is because he coached at a DIII school.
The NFL Players Association continually works with the NFL to reduce the amount of practice time for players, and subsequently less contact. College coaches, most notably Stanford’s David Shaw, also continue to reduce the amount of hitting players do in practice.
The question is do players actually need to hit during practice in order to be successful.
“I do think it’s more based on position. A lot of guys, receivers or quarterbacks, they really don’t need to. But as linemen, we need to set our pads, to get that feel,” Redmond said. “At this level, you can do a lot without pads. For me, you do have to get some hits in. I just think it’s more based on the player.”
Football will never be free of hitting, of course, but the more teams win without doing it, the more their practices will be copied.