New tackling methods aim to make football safer, but proof still lacking

Hawk tackling technique used by New Trier High School football players employed in part to reduce head injuries. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune)

Two by two, pint-sized players with the Hoffman Estates Redhawks youth football team clattered into each other during one of the first tackling drills of the season. A coach hovered nearby, hoping to see one thing — and it wasn't a bone-rattling collision or a sure-handed takedown.

"Hey, way to keep your head up," he told one boy, patting him on the shoulder pads. "Nice job."

As concussion worries continue to plague football, high school and youth coaches across the country are trying to reduce the danger of the game's most violent act, adopting tackling methods that are meant to keep players' heads away from the impact.

The techniques have been hailed by some of the biggest names in the sport, but they've attracted plenty of criticism too, with some observers saying they do little to reduce the threat of head injuries in a game that relies on speed, instinct and brute force.