UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Not so deep within defensive back Trevor Williams' psyche resides a primal urge to obliterate a running back or wide receiver or whoever with the football. It's natural (Sigmund Freud surely would agree). He is, after all, human and a football player. But it's a feeling he must suppress in practice.
At Penn State this fall, full-contact, live-hitting will be rare because of a need to sustain the health of a sanction-depleted roster. As Bill O'Brien and players say, that doesn't mean less intensity, just less traditional tackling. Tackling has been replaced by thudding.
A thud is almost a tackle. The action involves hitting a player, but defenders aren't supposed to take him all the way to the turf.
"It's annoying, kind of, but at the same time you want to protect your teammates," Williams said. "But I think everyone on the defense wants to tackle more than they want to thud."
Be that as it may, thudding is far from revolutionary. O'Brien said the New England Patriots often thud-tackled in the regular season when he coached there. This summer the Philadelphia Eagles decided to switch from tackling to thudding after season-ending injuries afflicted two players.
Other college teams also have tried it, sometimes engendering debate among coaches and fan bases. Clemson thud-tackled in 2012 but added more regular tackling after coach Dabo Swinney said they needed to be better prepared for the games. Texas has thud-tackled in recent years, leading to criticism from fans who believe their tackling suffered.
Williams doesn't worry about an adverse effect in games.
"You really can't forget how to tackle, unless you want to come off the field," he said. "I don't think anybody wants to come off the field."
Penn State started thud-tackling at times in 2012 but emphasized it more in the spring. Linebacker Glenn Carson said they fully tackled in practices no more than a handful of times. The learning curve for thudding wasn't long, but it wasn't short either.
"The hardest thing is not diving at someone's legs to get what some people call a 'gator' tackle," Carson said. "You watch some film and think, 'If I gator-tackled there I would have made the play.' "
In addition to thud-tackling, O'Brien has streamlined other areas of his practices to benefit the overall health of his roster, which he says consists of 66 scholarship players. These precautions include holding more walk-throughs as necessary, continuing to gauge health and fatigue levels proactively, scrimmaging for around 50 plays rather than 100 and knowing better when to rest veteran players.
"Practice is practice but you have to make sure you're putting your best team out there on Saturdays," O'Brien said. "Injuries are going to happen. It's a violent sport and it's going to happen, so what are you going to do to control those things?"
Good thudding is one of his controls, so long as his players get used to it. In the first week of practice, O'Brien said his team participated in a nine-on-seven drill at full speed, with defenders properly driving into their teammates but not pulling them to the turf. He liked what he saw, which is to say the players weren't hitting too hard and they weren't too easy on the offense, either.
Mark Dent: email@example.com, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05. First Published August 11, 2013 4:00 AM