The key to success of any defensive player is getting them to buy into your philosophy, teaching fundamentals that become habits, and developing them as individuals on and off the field. A linebacker must have relentless effort, a swarm-and- smash mentality. They must have poise and execution, yearn for competitive greatness and they must be able to love, not only the game, but their brothers on the field of play.
Linebackers at Robert Morris University live by A.S.K.R. on every play, which is an acronym for Alignment, Stance, Key and Responsibility. We make sure our linebackers are prepared and fundamentally sound when they take the field. This allows them to let their natural talent lead them.
Alignment – There are a variety of Alignment rules in our base call (Rub Key, See Diagrams 1-3). I do not believe in the number system for linebacker alignments, meaning 30s, 40s, and 10s. We want our linebackers to be focused, not second guessing the alignment. We teach our linebackers to answer two questions with regard to their alignment.
- Are you aligned and able to drop off the wide receiver you are supposed to?
- Can you fill your run gap and support the play?
Sam Linebacker – Align to the field or pass strength off No. 2. If No. 2 is removed, APEX your alignment, splitting the difference between the removed player and the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMLOS). If No. 2 is attached to the core, align off your No. 2, relative to your gap. In Diagram 1, you can see the Sam is a B-gap defender.
Will Linebacker – Align away from the field or pass strength off No. 2. If No. 2 is removed, APEX your alignment, splitting the difference between the removed player and the EMLOS. If No. 2 is attached to the core, align off your No. 2, relative to your gap. In Diagram 1, Will is a C-gap defender.
Mike Linebacker – Align off of No. 3. If No. 3 is removed, APEX your alignment, splitting the difference between the removed player and the EMLOS. If No. 3 is attached or in the core, align off your No. 3, relative to your gap. In Diagram 1, Mike is an A-gap defender.
Linebacker Stances: Inside The Box
The linebacker’s feet must be kept even on his stance inside the box, slightly wider than shoulder-width to prevent any overstepping. His weight must be distributed slight to balls of his feet, with his heels slightly off the ground. He should screw in his toes for better balance.
The linebacker’s knees must be bent at approximately a 90-degree angle, with his knees over his toes, his butt/hips sunk to knee level at 90 degrees.
His chest must come out over his toes, and positioned up so his numbers are visible. His eyes must remain on his keys. His hands should be over his knees, but never resting upon them, ready to attack blockers quickly.
With a pass rush stance, the linebacker must creep to nd place his feet pointing with his LOS (see Diagrams 2 & 3) a toe in the direction to where he needs to go. He must have a good base with a sprinter’s mentality, which is to say an aggressive mindset.
His inside foot must be up with his outside foot comfortably back. He should be in a great position to run forward, with a sprinter’s bend in his knees and hips. His shoulders should have a forward-lean, but not so forward that he unbalances his weight. Finally, he needs to keep his arms close to his holsters.
LOS “Tilt” Stance
In the “Tilt Stance” (position seen in Diagram 4), the linebacker must turn his feet tilted toward the tight end and keep them shoulder-width apart. His inside foot is back 6 inches. He should be in a great position to run forward at the tight end. He must have a bend in his knees and hips, and his shoulders should have a forward lean, but he must keep his weight balanced. He must keep his arms close to his holsters, and he must mirror-step the tight end when on the LOS.
Keys/Big Picture Read
This type of read is a Triangle Read. The linebacker must be able to see everything within the triangle (see Diagram 5). The triangle starts with the offensive player closest to the linebacker all the way to the player farthest away in back, and the lineman in between. This is a technique that takes practice and repetition in order to master.
There are questions the linebacker must ask himself. Is the ball coming to him or going away from him. If it is going to him, he must react immediately. If it’s going away from him, he must react with more control and look for a cutback or pass.
He must think about the intentions of the ball carrier. Is it fast flow, tight flow, or counter flow? What are the intentions of the line? Is he looking at low-hat, high-hat or elephants on parade? If it’s low-hat, what’s the scheme? On a Reach, the offensive lineman either lateral- or drop-steps. On a Down and Pull, the offensive lineman blocks hard up-field toward a gap, and someone pulls from one side to the other. On a Post/Drive, the offensive lineman drive blocks the man in front, potentially with the intention to either combo or chip off. On a Fan, he drive blocks a lineman to the outside.
Here are the various responsibilities for the Sam, Will and Mike linebackers in the run game. (See Diagram 6)
The Sam linebacker’s primary gap is the B-Gap. He is looking for a “Clear/Cloudy” read of his gap. If it’s a run read and his gap is “clear,” he must attack. If it’s a run read, and the gap is “cloudy,” he must be patient and ready to adjust. The Sam must start with a great stance outside the box and align off No. 2. He needs to have great vision through his Triangle Read, in this case the EMLOS through to the RB. He must read and react fast.
The Will linebacker’s primary gap is the C-gap. He is also looking for a “Clear/Cloudy” read of his gap. If it’s a run read and the gap is “clear,” he must attack. If it’s a run read and the gap is “cloudy,” he also must be patient and ready to adjust. The Will must start with a great stance inside the box, aligning off of No. 2 with great vision through his Triangle Read. In this case, it’s the guard through to the running back. He must read and react fast, as well.
The Mike linebacker’s primary gap is the A-gap. He also is looking for a “Clear/Cloudy” read of his gap. If it’s a run read and his gap is “clear,” he also must attack. If it’s a run read, and his gap is “cloudy,” he too must be patient and ready to adjust. The Mike must start with a great stance inside the box, aligning off of No. 3 with great vision through his own Triangle Read. For the Mike, the read is the guard through to the running back. Like the Sam and the Will, he must read and react with quickness.
Here are the various responsibilities for the Sam, Will and Mike linebackers in the pass game. (See Diagram 7)
The Sam linebacker must key his pass read at a depth of 10-12 yards. He must get his eyes to No. 2. If No. 2 goes out under 5 yards, the Sam must let him go and zone back inside looking for the next threat. If No. 2 goes in under five yards, it’s a squeeze route. If No. 2 goes vertical, the Sam collides with the No. 3 and keeps his eye on No. 1. If a No. 3 threatens the flat, the Sam must go with him. The Sam must understand the wide receiver picture for route recognition. He can’t use his hands on the receiver until he brings his feet to the game. As the old saying goes, “dead feet, dead meat.” He has to match the receivers through his zone.
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The Will linebacker has a pass read at 10-12 yards deep. He also must get his eyes to No. 2, but in this case, if the No. 2 goes out under 5 yards, the Will goes with him. If the No. 2 goes in under 5 yards, it’s a squeeze route. If the No. 2 goes vertical, the Will collides with him, keeping his eyes to the No. 1. If the No. 3 threatens the flat, the Will goes with him. The Will must understand the wide receiver picture for route recognition. He must use his hands and body to disrupt wide receiver routes, matching any wide receivers who come through his zone.
The Mike linebacker has a No. 3 Drop Read at 10-12 yards deep. He gets his eyes to the No. 3 quickly. If No. 3 blocks, the Mike drops off with depth looking for the next threat or a check release. If the No. 3 goes fast out, the Mike opens with vision to find the new No. 3 coming in. If No. 3 goes vertical, the Mike collides with the receiver, keeping his eyes on No. 2. The Mike must relate his drop-off to the angle of departure of the No. 3. He must find the final No. 3 after the routes distribute and match any wide receiver routes through his zone.
This article was written by David Plungas, Defensive Coordinator and Assistant Head Coach, Robert Morris University.
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