Toughness. Athleticism. Intelligence.
These are three things that every linebacker MUST have in order to play the position well.
Linebackers find themselves in the crosshairs of the opposing offense on every play, with schemes designed to confuse them or pound them into submission, so they must be up to the task.
Linebackers are a key piece in a defense’s ability to wreak havoc on opposing offenses and understanding the position will shed light as to why that is.
What does a Linebacker do?
Linebackers are usually responsible for getting most of the players on defense lined up correctly, as well as stopping the run AND the pass. They are typically the second line of defense in most defensive structures, deeper than the defensive line, but closer than the safeties.
Typically standing anywhere from 3-5 yards behind the defensive line, linebackers are sometimes some of the most athletic defenders on the field. Most linebackers are in charge of relaying the calls that come from a coach on the sideline to the other 10 players on the defense.
As the proverbial “Quarterback of the defense”, linebackers are called to play a crucial role in both the run and pass defense. Just like the quarterback on offense, the Linebacker is, like many positions on the football field, a very high IQ position on the defense. As such, they need to be stout enough to take on and get off of blocks by offensive linemen, drop into intermediate to deep zones, and sometimes run step for step the running backs/slot receivers down the field.
Why is it called Linebacker?
The name Linebacker is derived from the player’s positioning on the field of play. They are aligned in back of or behind the defensive line, hence “ line-backer”.
Their main job, at the genesis of football and its run heavy beginnings, was to act as added support for the defensive line or extra “backing” in run support. The origin of the position’s name is very literal.
What are some other names for the Linebacker?
- Sam (Strong side LB)
- Mike (Middle LB)
- Will (Weakside LB)
- Jack (Usually the second Middle LB in 3-4 front)
What are the Skills and Body Type needed to play Linebacker?
Change of Direction
All of these attributes combined would make for a game changing player at the linebacker position.
Body Type: (Estimate depending on the level you play at)
Who are some of the best Linebackers ever?
Ray Lewis (1996-2012)- Ray Lewis is arguably the best Linebacker to ever play in the NFL. 2x Defensive player of the year, 2x Super Bowl Champion (MVP once), 13x Pro Bowler (Record for Middle LBs) and 10x All-Pro. Lewis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
Chuck Bednarik (1949-1962)- Chuck Bednarik was the first overall pick in the 1949 NFL Draft. 2x NFL Champion, 10x First Team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowler. Chuck was the last of what were called “Sixty-Minute Men” who were players that played both offense and defense for entire games. Chuck played both Center and Linebacker. The award for the best defensive player in college football is named after Chuck. Chuck was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
Lawrence Taylor (1981-1993)- Taylor, or "LT" as he was known, was one of the most disruptive players during his time in the NFL. A 2x Super Bowl Champion, NFL MVP, 10x All-Pro, 10x Pro Bowler, 3x Defensive player of the year, NFL Defensive Rookie of the year. LT finished his career with 132.5 sacks which is tied for 14th all time in the NFL. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.
How important is the Linebacker Position in the NFL?
The value of inside linebackers has declined over the last decade with offenses shifting to more of a spread out and passing attack. This trend has put more of an emphasis on “Edge” defenders who rush the passer and defensive backs who can match up and cover wide receivers or tight ends. However, in any given draft cycle there are anywhere from 3-6 Linebackers taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.
While the NFL value on the “off-ball” inside linebacker has declined, the influx of talent at the position has had a major impact on defenses. Having a player at the second level of your defense who can rush the passer, cover man to man and drop into zone coverages can create mismatches for an offense. Linebackers with range and versatility are still a hot commodity within the NFL even though teams won’t necessarily invest high first round picks into players at those positions.
Why is the Linebacker so important?
Having an elite talent at the second level of your defense is something that cannot be overstated no matter what level of football you are playing at. Linebackers have the ability to disrupt opposing offenses at any moment whether it's rushing the passer, dropping into coverage or stopping the run.
Looking at the game-breaking talent of the three players listed above, having a player of that caliber on your defense affords you the ability to turn those guys loose and wreck an offense. The new-age linebackers and their immense versatility as both run stoppers and pass defenders create issues for opposing offenses who try to use running backs and slot receivers to exploit those matchups.
Having great athletes at the linebacker position creates so much versatility for a defense and can allow coaches to dictate to the offense instead of being reactionary. Longtime college coach Don Brown believes in solving your problems with aggression on defense and having versatile playmakers at the linebacker spot will allow defenses to do just that.
Check our collection of football scheme books.