Item No. 1 on the agenda: missed tackles

Bishop McGann-Mercy players, who participated in conditioning drills on Tuesday, are focusing on tackling this year.

Tackling is a basic skill in football that is sometimes taken for granted and overlooked, but Bishop McGann-Mercy cannot afford to do that this year, not after the season the Monarchs suffered through in 2009.

Much of McGann-Mercy’s trouble last year can be attributed to its struggles in bringing down ball carriers. Missed tackles, Coach Joe Read said, hurt the Monarchs in every single one of their games, which were all losses. McGann-Mercy was one of only two teams in Suffolk County to go 0-8 last season. (Miller Place was the other.)

Missed tackles were blamed as the main culprit. So it’s no wonder that tackling is a point of focus for the Monarchs this year.

“The theme here is tackle,” Read said. “If we don’t tackle, we’re in trouble again.”

Over the course of an 8-minute 21-second interview before Tuesday’s practice, Read mentioned the word “tackle” or “tackling” no less than 18 times.

“Did I say the word ‘tackling’ enough?” he asked a reporter.

McGann-Mercy’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball caught some of the Monarchs by surprise last year.

“You could watch the films,” said Henry Read, a senior wide receiver and linebacker. “There [were] missed tackles on every single play. There’s no excuse for that.”

Robbie Terry, a senior who plays running back and linebacker, said: “I felt that was at least 50 percent or more of the problem. You got to have the heart to do it, and you got to believe in yourself.”

Inexperience may have had something to do with McGann-Mercy’s tackling woes, but another explanation could have been the team’s small roster. With only 28 players on last year’s team, the Monarchs were unable to get a lot of hitting in during the week in practice.

That might be why they gave up an average of 41.3 points per game, including 50 points to Southampton. Another four teams scored 42 or more points against the Monarchs.

Joe Read called the team’s struggles on defense “confounding” and “mind-boggling.” He said: “We looked at the films. As far as being in the right place, they were there. It’s just not making the tackles. The biggest question mark that still prevails is tackling.”

The answer as to whether or not the Monarchs are better tacklers this year may not come for another week or so. Today will be the first day of contact drills. This coming Tuesday the Monarchs will participate in a combined practice with Riverhead. “By then we’ll know,” said Joe Read.

Tackling is a skill that requires heart and perhaps a sense of sacrifice.

“It’s not as easy as it looks,” said Anthony Bartonik, a senior offensive tackle/defensive tackle who was one of the team’s most improved players last year. “You have to get the technique down, you have to get the right form down, and you have to do it.”

The Monarchs have some positives to look forward to. About a dozen players who all played last season are back, including every player in the skilled positions. Most of the line has returned, and some promising sophomores are looking to make an impact.

Still, everything could come down to tackling. There’s that word again.

“We need 11 guys out there who want to hit,” Joe Read said. “The will to tackle is what we’re talking [about] here.”

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