Football Tip: Build a Better Linebacker

Linebackers work as a unit when pursuing the football. The linebacker closest to the ball carrier runs directly at the runner, while the deeper linebackers take a deeper angle to the runner. Linebackers are hard-hitting players who always go through a blocking sequence before reacting, vary their stance according to their position, read and react to the play while pursuing it aggressively, drive the ball carrier they are tackling, work as a unit with the rest of the linebackers, and effectively blitz the quarterback.

Linebackers are masters of the read-and-react technique and use it extensively. As a rule linebackers play the run first and the pass second, but obvious instances often call for the inverse. Linebackers are sure tacklers who work with the defensive linemen on a wide range of coordinated stunts and blitzes, and often figure prominently in short pass coverage.

The default responsibility for the linebacker is to read and react to the open offensive lineman to the linebacker's side of the field. Usually, this is a guard but may be the tackle in some alignments.

If the offensive lineman recoils in pass protection, the linebacker steps back and to the outside a few steps offering pass coverage in the short "hook zone." If the guard blocks down, the linebacker slams down with his outside shoulder on the tackle’s inside shoulder and looks for the play inside. If the guard pulls to the other side of the line, the linebacker trails him over to the running lane and plugs the hole. If the guard pulls around the same end, one option has the linebacker trailing him and filling the lane outside the last down lineman. Another option is to crash the vacant hole the guard deserted.

Here are two drills coaches can use to make better linebackers:

Crossover Run and Break

The linebacker lines up in the middle of the field. As the quarterback (coach) drops back to the right or left, the linebacker, with his shoulders square and eyes on the QB, runs for the hash (at a 45-degree angle) in the direction the quarterback opens to. The linebacker squares up in a good football position (about 13 yards deep) and the quarterbacks throws the ball to his left or right. The linebacker breaks on the ball.

The key is to get reps and increase the difficulty of picking the ball off as the linebacker's reaction to the ball becomes better.

Purpose: To have the linebacker drop into zones, square up and break on the football under control and in good football position.

Coaching Points: The linebacker should start off in a good stance, shoulders over knees, weight on the balls of his feet, knees in and eyes up. He should read the quarterback drop and react accordingly. If it's to the right, he should drop to the right hash, never taking his eye off the quarterback. Square up in a good football position and read the quarterback's arm motion. React to the ball. Make the interception.

Shed and Throw

On three-man sled, linebackers assume proper football position one yard from their sled. On command, they attack the sled. A ball carrier is positioned eight yards behind the sled, and on command runs at a 45-degree angle in the direction the coach requests. Linebackers, working feet and hands, throw sled and accelerate to ball carrier.

Purpose: To develop proper position to defeat potential blocker and make the tackle.

Coaching Points: Have linebackers place hands properly. Maintain leverage, separation and foot movement. Once in proper position, find ball carrier, and throw or rip to get to ball carrier.

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