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Linebacker Play Packet

Linebacker Play Packet

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Published by: Matthew Looney on Aug 04, 2010
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Linebacker Play


We teach concepts of stance within parameters that allow some freedom to each individual, One concept has to do with the height of the stance The farther from contact, the higher and less formal the stance may be" When a linebacker aligns five yards deep from the line of scrimmage, blockers rise significantly in their attempt to block" The deeper the linebacker

can then use a taller stancebecablse-I:lewillcontact at a higher level. .. _

Another concept involves the base - the first thing a linebacker must learn about stances, Most linebackers play with a stance that is TOO WIDE., I n their attempt to get down and dirty, they spread their feet wide to lower their center of gravity, Although this does sink the hips, it also restricts movement significantly, Be sure to watch the initial step, it should take a linebacker toward the ball (hot resetting the feet). If the defender steps under himself, have him narrow his stance, His first

step should be clean and outside the base, never move inside his base" .

As a general rule, the "football position" is the same stance as the athlete would in a % squat technique (feet shoulder width apart, chest out, shoulders pinned back, knees bent, butt kicked back),


Defenses are often defeated because they simply align improperly, Put a premium on lining up correctly. This takes no ability Coaches need to train it as a priority, and players must discipline themselves to align appropriately every time, Players can attain proper depth from the line of scrimmage by always working individual drills on lined fields, A linebacker can sense a depth of four to five yards if he is daily watching depth by the field markings (landmarks)


Two coaches can use the same scheme with identical techniques and yet differ radically with their keys. The keys of the upfront players must be coordinated if they are to respond in concert to a multiple of offensive threats, __ <-

Over the years linebacker keys have ebbed and flowed, With Single Wing and Wing- T attacks, the misdirection of these offenses should have linebackers keying linemen When a linebacker watches a back for his primary movement, he is often led astray


When linebackers key funning backs their reactions are usually clear and unsophisticated. The beauty of running back keys is their simplicity with double gap responsible linebackers who fast flow.. Back keys are really tempting,

Back keys are confidence builders for inexperienced players. The rules that players usually learn are the following;

'*' When my Key comes to me, I attack my front-side gap

.. When my key goes away, I attack my backside gap (_

.. When my key shows pass block or a pass route, I drop into my coverage rule.

Back keys lend themselves to aggressive, attacking, two-gap players


Keying a lineman is more complex Rather than having three basic running back paths, a lineman may have to react to five to eight courses Although it is more complex, the adage of, "linemen rarely (never) lie", is true, they are thetruest keys available.

With play-action pass, a running back lies. He fakes a run and those who key him lose movement to the receivers. Usually linemen show pass protection.

When defending the Winged-T offense, keying backs will result in the linebacker playing the weakest or lest frequently used plays (because of the misdirection of this offense). The counter play is popular in nearly all offensive attacks today, When the linebacker correctly reads the players on the line of scrimmage, they will react immediately to the right point of attack without any false steps (play-action), linemen are more difficult to read but are more truthful.

Another advantage in fOCUSing on linemen is that linebackers can more readily recognize tips from their stances that will alert them to particular plays Keying linemen makes linebackers more aware of their blocks. When focused on a back key, an unsuspecting linebacker will often contact a lineman, This can lead to a poor hit-and-shed base


In an attempt to combine the two keys previously described, many coaches teach keying a triangle of backs, linemen, and the ball. It gives the player the potential fast flow of a back read with the caution of a pulling lineman who says "not so

fast" on plays. \

The triangular system is sound but requires exceptional coaching ability, It also opens the door for a linebacker to guess

because he is uncertain abou(!e)clarity of multiple ke~~. .

Back reads are very clean although they can be deceivinq With play-action passes and counters Pure line reads are the truest but take tremendous discipline and require time to learn. The triangle keys attempt to mesh the two, but at some point one key must take priority over the other or the linebacker cannot move with confidence,


Taking on blockers is the basis of defensive football It is to defense what blocking is to offense .. I@the defensive players

at the line of scrimmage make contact with their blockers and discard them while maintaining their position, a ball carrier would have no daylight at the line. He would face a wall of opposite-colored jerseys. Hit and shed is the act of making contact with a blocker and then discarding him while maintaining or moving to an assigned position.

Nextio tackling the hit and shed is the most important skill the linebacker must master For the majority of players, tackling is very natural Conversely, the hit and shed can be the most difficult fundamental for players to learn and


The highly regarded athlete is usually able to impress the coaching staff, his teammates, and himself with spurts of

impressive play, even though he may lack sound basics He is often simply stronger and quicker than most of his opponents. This success with poor ABes will normally cause problems for the demanding coach. When the talented, untrained linebacker becomes frustrated in mastering the new concepts, he will usually revert to his former style of play. The player must learn that only a sound hit and shed can win consistently against quality competition If he doesn't believe it, the coach must make hiT11 a believer .. Once he has confidence in the hit-and-shed concepts, he will work to make them second nature.

When you ask players and even most linebacker coaches to identify the keys to taking on blockers, they talk first about

strength, upper body action, or size Few point out the importance of the player's feet, and yet that's the most critical issue when a linebacker meet's a blocker .. The contact surface itself is relatively unimportant Linebackers can make good contact with their hands, shoulder, or forearm, but their effort will be in vain without a correct base.

Correct Base

When a player plants the same-side foot on the ground just before meeting the blocker with his same-side contact surface

(his shoulder, forearm, or hand), he's in the strongest position to fight pressure from an opponent.

Opposite Foot and Shoulder Base

This is perhaps the base that linebackers use most frequently. It is terribly inefficient one .. Many players accept and use this hit and shed base because they don't appreciate the value of a correct base or don't know how to use a correct base conSistently. With this incorrect base, an opponent, who applies pressure to the contact shoulder, will turn the linebacker

on his up (forward) foot.

PlayerS who are turned by offensive linemen must realize that it resulted from taking on the blocker with the opposite foot

and shoulder They shouldn't need to see it on tape During a play on a game day or in a practice drill, they should know immediatelywhen they are caught in this base

... 1-' tPrength and conditioning linebackers do is wasted if they don not consistently sink a proper base.

"7 Pancake Base

The third base usually occurs when the young linebacker is trying to establish a correct base but fails to get his front foot

planted. With only onetbot for a base, he's almost always going to be moved backward

A player who gets pancaked before establishing a correct base needs to stick with it He should realize that he was very close to the ideal base He should determine whether he planted his front foot late or whether his final step was too long During one on one drills foCUS on the "front" foot of the players involved. After the collision, every linebacker watching the drill should be able to say whether the participant's front foot was correct, opposite, or in the air. By focusing on this aspect of the drill everyone can see directly the importance of a correct base. This is a creative and effective way to learn even if you are able to tape practice sessions.


If your base is correct but your pads are higher than your opponent, he will likely get movement on you The old adage

that the "low man wins", is true.

... Offensive linemen are much larger than our linebackers, when they make contact with linebackers they

are physically much higher because they are taller and rise more quickly from their stances.

.. Linebackers are playing at a depth much farther from the offensive linemen; the linemen rise higher as

they leave their stances to reach the deeper-playing linebacker We tell our inside linebackers that they are "born under pad level" in thls scenario .

.. Pad level is still important when linebackers and linemen of similar size make contact or when a linebacker is taller than an opposing lineman.


One step before contact the linebacker must have his base set and his pad level lower than the blocker. Now the

linebacker must launch his pads (or contact surface) into the blocker by uncoiling his hips


The hips propel the contact surface Power-cleans / hang-cleans emphasize the inertia created through the. hips in this movement, and athletes with experience in these exercises can translate that power movement in lhelr.htd-and-shed

fundamentals. V

To get maximum results from the hip explosion; ~

.., The player should use a compact base from which to uncoil his hips He should set the front foot with a

very small stagger

.. Players sh Quid experience the full range of movement they enjoy with their hips from a compact base.

Conversely, they shou Id take an elongated base and feel how it restricts their hip movement

.., The next concept is also key, The hips follow the path of the front foot. The front foot must point at the

target, directed down the middle of the blocker, not on the edge of the opponent. We want the blocker to get the full impact of our hip explosion by directing it to the center of our opponent We don't want a glancing blow,

Often a linebacker will set his base correctly and have it compact but will turn his front foot at an angle,

Remember the hips follow the direction of the front foot. When the player places the front foot at an angle, the explosion of the hips applies only partial force to the blocker .. The linebacker should always point the toe of their front foot into the

crotch of the blocker, That ensures hitting the middle of the target .


The upper body is much less significant than anything previously mentioned Compared to the base, pad level, and hip

roll, the upper body action is merely window dressing to hit and shedding,

The upper body is the contact surface with the blocker, Years ago all linebacker made contact with shoulders or forearms, Many have since gone exclusively to hands, Outside linebackers use hands versus tight ends and a shoulder against power kick-outs f loads by fullbacks, Inside linebackers use hands only for cut blocks and use their shoulders for linemen and fullback isolations

When using a shoulder, we attempt to get forearm lift over the front foot to gain separation from the blocker as our hips

explode Simultaneously, we draw our outside hand, as if from a gunslinger's holster, to club the blocker away from the


Rarely is there a discard of an offensive lineman, while in a hole, in today's football. There is much more his and hold

ground than hit and shed, If all linebackers can hit and hold their positions while maintaining their off arm to tackle, you can play great run defense,

A player can choose hands, shoulder, or forearm as a contact surface, as all will be successful but only if the base, pad

level, and hip roll are sound,


When a linebacker plays within one step of the line of scrimmage, he will step forward with his lead foot and establishes

the base When performing from the depth, another dimension must be addressed - the approach

The approach is the movement a linebacker takes toward a blocker before he sets his base" The approach distance varies depending on the depth of the linebacker and the speed of the oncoming blocker. Because of those variables, the linebacker can't measure the steps before each collision,

The linebacker should make each approach under control Do not sprint to or attempt to sprint through an offensive lineman The huge linemen we face today will engulf or turn a linebacker sprinting at them"

Approach under control and, just before contact, hOP'~ip to a correct base, get pad under pad, and explode off a stationary base, Setting a correct base off an approach must be second nature to a linebacker He will reach that point if he works it daily



This is a shuffle technique with flow to or away from the linebacker. It has a single gap duty that requires the athlete to play slow on the backside to top cutbacks


Because the Mike linebacker is assigned the weak-side B gap and is in no rush with flow away, we align him wide over ;

the offensive guard in a ~O technique The Sam Unebackerisassigned the strong-side A gap and is a FAST fill to the strong A gap and slow playing action away The linebacker's inside foot covers the outside foot of the guard. We begin at

a depth of 4.5 to 5 yards off the ball


INSIDE linebackers can focus squarely on the guard (or at times, the backs). His initial steps should ideally take him closer to the ball, anything else we classify as a false step.

Guard Reads


More common with wishbone or option teams, it is still an excellent block to begin guard-recognition drills because it can isolate on the approach and the feet for the hit and shed With a base block, the linebacker should approach the guard with outside leverage. He should settle with the inside foot forward and planted The linebacker should get pad under pad and explode off the base with the hips, keeping the outside arm free to make a play in 'B' gap.


With a guard reach block (an outside path by the guard to gain outside position on a defender), the linebacker shuffles for width first and then takes on the guard with his inside fool. Once he sets the base, he should squeeze the blocker with the ball inside When the ball gains width, the linebacker simply pushes off the inside.foot to pursue ..

Most linebackers are too aggressive with the reach block. They naturally want to attack up-field, rather than gain width. When they run up-field, the linebackers are more likely to be reached and they often contact the guard with the improper footwork There is no rush. The linebacker should take on this big threat on his terms He should be under control, gain width to protect the assigned 'B' gap, and settle on a firm base from which the hips can uncoil.

Another adjustment to the reach block is noting the desired width of the guard. The wider the guard's path, the wider the play. It will become obvious that the tighter the guard reach, the more likely it is an inside play. The linebacker should then lean heavily on his inside foot to constrict the hole. The wider track of the lineman will indicate a perimeter play and quicker pursuit by the linebacker Remember, when using this method the linebacker does not want to run up-field on a reach block. If he aligns at the proper depths and takes on the guard at 2 -3 yard depth, that's ideal. He cannot however, lose his outside arm. The linebacker should be unreachable both by alignment and key.


More often than not, the linebacker can get a pre-snap indicationof pull from the guard's stance (light in the set hand). A pull toward the linebacker tells him that there is no 'B' gap threat and he can immediately overlap to 'C' gap and beyond The pull alerts the linebacker of an opening He can begin pressing before seeing the running lane The linebacker can

make a negative yardage tackle based on a read. .


Similar to the front-side pull, a lineman rnay give a pre-snap indication of the pull and will put even less weight on the set hand and more weight in an almost squat or rocking backward stance. With guard pull away, the ball will usually follow, and the linebacker should shuffle, shadowing him, looking for an opening to press Keeping the linebacker disciplined with pull away is essential, as most will want to beat the guard to the outside perimeter, creating a vulnerable seam to the quick hitting inside trap.




Back Reads

The key can vary from team to team The truest key is the guard, but back reads have their place

Against big line splits to the linebacker, the linebacker should walk up tighter on the guard, anticipatlnq an inside play, or check to a penetrating charge by a defender in the B gap.

When faced with small splits, anticipate an outside play and deepen the linebacker and widen him to the gap. Anytime the nose widens his alignment or stunts to a wider alignment, play the linebacker in a wide technique with the same guard or hack-reads



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Linebacker read progression


Linebackers must quickly diagnose the direction and flow of an offensive play.

Direction refers to the key movement toward one ofthree landmarks .. Flow includes the action of the play along with direction, being closely tied to the speed ofthe play. The linebacker must quickly determine ifthe play is a slowly developing counte:! action or a quick hitting isolation or toss sweep After direction, the recognition of flow will allow the linebacker to stop the running play for limited gain. These lineback.er primary keys will remain consistent throughout the season. The initial movement of the assigned key will give the linebacker a clue in diagnosing direction.

Keys secondary to the ru.rming back key are also included within the linebacker's field ofvision .. These keys will include the quarterback's actions, other backs, or possibly an uncovered offensive lineman. This field of vision, sometimes called the triangle, is what the linebacker sees with his 'dim lights' .. An effective linebacker is able to focus his blight lights on the primary key, while is constantly processing what is occurring in his dim lights. Blight lights will illuminate direction, but the flow ofthe play will be determined by what is happening in the dim lights .. With bright lights focused on the running back key, the linebacker recognizes movement and 'steps to stance', widening a pre-snap stance in which he had his feet only inches apart .. The eyes widen as the lead foot steps sideways to the same direction that the key stepped. The eyes should become as large as saucers "saucer eyes" We also say the eyes should go "Singletary" {referencing Bears HOF middle linebacker).

The linebacker gets big eyes to widen his field of focus .. Direction is diagnosed and it is now a matter of confirming the flow as 'in', 'at', 'out', or 'other' .. In widening his field of focus, the linebacker now shifts his bright lights flam the primary key to the triangle Thus, the linebacker's attention goes flam the small focus of the primary key to the big picture of where the ball is going

The step to stance buys time fOT the primary key to show directional intent. Additionally, this step allows the linebacker to shift his focus of bright lights to the mentioned triangle.

Linebackers must be focused on the primary threat to the "In" area first and foremost. If the primary key step straight ahead and the blight light-dim light transition confirms the direction and flow, the key is said to be attacking the 'in' box .. In diagnosing this example of direction and flow, the linebacker steps to stance with his inside foot, goes "Singletary" and reads the 'in' .. Recklessness is important to defeating an 'in' flow due to the fact that on an 'in' the offensive tackle will try to pin the backer Upon making the 'in' read, the backer attacks the 'in' box with abandon. Most 'ins' are inside~tI'ap plays, plays in which the linebacker must tackle the mooing back near the line of scrimmage .. FailuI~o immediately strike at the 'in' leaves the linebacker vulnerable to a devastating blindside for the outside leveraged lineman Before extensive practicing of the other areas, linebackers should have the 'in' reads honed to game time readiness.

Ifthe key attack the 'at', the linebacker's eyes go wide and search for a flashing color .. Ifno flashing color is seen, the linebacker drives out of the stance to which he stepped and attacks the key. The 'at' area extends approximately six feet fjom the line of scrimmage, angling outward. The out boundary is the farthest boundary inside which the linebacker must attack .

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1 Place 5 cones staggered in a space of 20 yds. 5 yds apart

2 Linebackers are to take a senes of 45 degree drops on command 3 Fadng the coach with their backs to a row' of 5 cones

the coach directs them through by pointing Ihe ball left or right 4 The LB respond by crossing over at 45 degree angles and keeping eyes on the coach IQB)

5 At any point the coach can set up to throw so the LB must focus on him

6 Once LB pull up. they are glued visually to Ihe OB for their break on the ball

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fundamentals and

defenders post-approach on hip roll explosion



at EO yd~ bellearner -.

doeS an exaggerated

juke-move .~



train linebackers to quickly diagnose are to respond with action

1 LB & RB take formation alignment.

2 On camand, RB takes 1l1e prescribed IN AT or OUTSIDE path 3 l.B shuffles at attacks open seam

4 LB is graded on his key read diagnosis and not overrunning the RB




.. - '-;',

An advanced variation on rn / , LBs determine fronlside I backslde and fill respective responslbts gap

LB & R8 take formation alignmenl

2 On ccmand, RB takes the prescribed IN AT Dr OUTSIDE path 3 LB shtJllles at attacks open seam

4 ·LB.is graded on his key read diagnosis ann not overrunning the RB


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you cannot move tL unless you apply force from llle base. in thQ same vein, we ward our LBs coming UP and UNDER lheblockat' StreSSing Pad Under Pad in their approao:h to the blocker is vaal


Players should use a compact base from wntc-h 10 unecu his .hips. He !lMtild set the front fool with a very small staggll!(, When a player plants the same-side fool 10 the-ground jU!51 before meeting tho blocker he's in the strongest poeltlon to- fighl pressure from enopponent. Tl'Iis drill emph'OlsizoS$lhe compactj'ump of ill Hang CIe-.w;, wilh a fool 51~ger


The IJPper body is the conlact surface wjU'l Ir"Ie b~ocko!r We witt stress shou1ders for linemen aneE fullback i50S I loads. Wheel t.Jsing shou1der aUernpt to get forearm lill over the srcn t foot 10 !;atn seperetlcn from tbe blocker as 01,11 hips explode, Simullanoo-u5ly_ dr-aw our outside hand as if from a-gunslinger'./3 ho;sel 10 club the bl-oci<:er away from r-e forearm

The LB must 1&Jl"ICh his pads (contact SlJrf~l mct tre blocMilr by uncoiling Mis hips. The hips follow (he path of lhe front feet The fronl fool must point at tile la(9et, direc::led downlne midd!e- of I~ blocker. nollhe edge of tee opponent We wanllheblocKer to gellhe full impacl of our hip explosion by directing i~ to tbe center 01 our opponent

, approach under ccrnrcl and just before contact, hop or sldp- to <II correct base, gel pad under pad. and explod~ off a stat~on.ary base . • stress the 4 key fundamentals in this drill

. can highlight individual phases of this technique one at a time .. one man blocker or 5 man sled can be utilized for reps

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Pos,ition r: ~~ ~ \~~ ","f I:. " , - c , '"' Run Responsibility , Pass
Edge weakside 5 tech. "Gil to:gap to ball I away:chase contain & rush
Nose weakside 1 tech. "A" to.qap to ball! away:saueeze inside rush
Tackle strongside 3 tech. I'S'· to.oao to ball! away:saueeze inside rush
Rush . strongside 6i tech. "G" to:gao to ball I awav.soueeze contain & rush
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Devil strongside 5x5 EMOLOS lie!' to: fill oao or flow I away: cutback Curl to flat ~~:.-
Mike weaks ide 30 tech IIs,r must be fast fill plugger type to: fill gap or flow I away: Opposite A Weak hook
Sam strongside 20 tech "An must be slow read scrape type to: Fill gao or flow I away: Oooosite B Strong hook
Rover weakside 5x5 EMOLOS to: D Qap or alley I away: cutback Curl to flat
Corner 8 x 1 - inside leverage presnap cushion premised on athlete to: Outside force 1 away: pursuit Deep 1!3
Free Safety 12 yds deep middle offield alley player on outside run Alley both ways Middle 1/3 STRENGTH TO NUMBERS


'6' (4-3)


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Edge weakside 5 tech, "en. to:gap to ball I awav.cnase contain & rush
Nose weakside 1 tech. IIAlt to.cap to ball I awav.soueeza inside rush
Tackle strongside 3 tech. "B" to:gap to ball I awav.soueeze inside rush
Rush strongs ide 5 or 6i tech. "G" to:gap to ball I awav.soueeze contain & rush
Devil strongside 60 tech "Oil fast read on TE I re route to: fill gaD or flow I away: cutback Strong curl
Mike weakside 40 to 50 tech liB" to: fill can or flow I awav: Oooostte A Weaak Hook
Sam strongside10 tech "A·· must be fast read fill type 10: Fill gap Of flow I awav: Opnoslte B Strong Hook
Rover 10 yds deep from EMOL aUey player on outside run Alley strong side Gurl to flat
Strong Corner 1 x t - outside leverage must force everything inside - float tech to: Outside force I awav: pursult flat zone
Weak Corner 8 x 1 - inside leverage presnap cushion premised on athlete Alley weak side Weak 1/2
Free Safety 12 yds deep middle offield alley player on outside run AIIev stronc side Strong 1/2 STRENGTH TO TIGHT END


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