The Cleanout is the 1st player to arrive at the tackle situation. Their primary role is to remove the threat that exists to the ball. That “Threat” arises from the opposition defenders arriving at the tackle. The Cleanout usually arrives to the tackle around the same time as the 1st defender arrives. The role of the defender is to poach (turnover) the ball or at least slow down the delivery of the ball. If the Cleanout is late in arriving at the tackle the 1st defender has usually gotten their hands on the ball which more often than not results in a turnover or a penalty against the tackled player for holding on in the tackle.
There are basically three different methods or techniques for removing the “Threat” (1st defender) from the tackle situation but those techniques are determined by the body position of the Threat.
1.The Knee Lift: This technique is used when the “Threat” is in a relatively upright position having stepped over the tackled play. The fact that they have stepped over the tackled player presents the ideal leverage for removing the Threat. From a low body position the Cleanout must get their body under the Threat with their head to the side of the Threat’s trunk (This puts the Cleanout’s head in a safe position). Then using their arm nearest to the Threat’s leg they should lift up the leg of the Threat from under the Threats knee and drive the Threat out of the tackle area.
2.The Body Sack: This technique is used when the Threat is lying on top of the tackled player. Even though the Threat is required to roll away and cannot play the ball as they are off their feet, their delaying in doing so can often slow down the delivery of the ball. In this situation the Cleanout must drop into a very low body position and using their shoulder (arms still in the extended position) drive the Threat off the tackled player. In doing so the Cleanout may go to ground. But as long as they drive through the tackled area and do not go to ground in a position to protect or “seal off the ball” from the opposition, it is a positive action and should not be penalised by the referee.
3.The Saddle Roll: This along with the Body Sack is the most common cleanout technique used nowadays. In this situation the Threat is on their feet and reaching in over the tackled player onto the ball with 2 hands. This puts the Threat in the perfect position to poach the ball. The Saddle Roll technique requires the Cleanout to wrap both arms around the trunk of the Threat (as high up under their armpits as possible), squeeze tightly around the trunk of the Threat and roll or torc them sideways and out of the tackle area.
With all 3 cleanout techniques the Cleanout will more often than not go to ground. In doing so they must NOT find themselves in a position to protect or “seal off” the ball. That is illegal and should be penalized. But if they go to ground outside the tackle area they are having no impact on the ball and it’s availability to the defense. That is a positive action and perfectly legal under the law.
With the threat now removed from the ball the next priority is to secure the space just in front of the ball. That is where the 2nd support player to arrive, known as the “Combat”, gets to work.