By Maury Waugh, Inside Linebackers Coach
At Trine, our defensive staff is very technique conscious. We obviously need inside linebacker talent to win, but it is our opinion that technique is more important than scheme (though we believe strongly in our scheme).
It is our belief that if we insist on perfect technique in individual and group drills, we will ultimately be productive in team drills and games. Thus, technique is emphasized in individual and group drills and production is the focus in team drills and games.
The purpose of this article is to discuss a few inside linebacker techniques that we believe are important, and then describe drills to help develop the techniques.
Since most initial linebacker movement is made in a lateral direction, the stance is a parallel two point stance. It is essentially football’s basic hitting position. The feet are armpit width apart. We see a lot of wide linebacker stances on television, but, in our opinion, wide stances result in linebackers stepping underneath themselves before moving laterally. We hate false steps!
The weight is on the balls of the feet and the big toe, with the heels turned out slightly. We do not take a read step, but merely put more weight on the balls of the feet as the ball is snapped.
The knees are bent significantly, with the arms hanging loosely and the hands placed outside the knees. It is recommended that the hands do not rest on the knees or thigh pads. The waist is bent and the back is straight, with perhaps a slight arching of the lower back. The head and shoulders are in front of the knees. The upper body is coiled, but not tense. The eyes are focused on our key, which is the triangle of the two or three man surface in front of the linebacker and the near back.
It is important to assume a stance in which the linebacker does not need to either raise or lower himself before executing the shuffle or otherwise moving laterally.
We really do not drill for stance, but we begin every drill in either our base stance or our “up” stance. Corrections in stance are made frequently. I might add that we begin most drills with movement (usually with a silent hand clap or foot movement by the coach) rather than sound. It’s a pet peeve of mine that too many defensive drills begin with a sound command, when, in reality, defensive players react to movement.
At Trine our linebackers shuffle, unless their gap is immediately threatened by a play such as an isolation. For instance, the backside backer versus power O will shuffle to a “stack and stay” position behind his fellow inside linebacker. He will shuffle, without getting too close to the LOS too soon.
The linebacker will lean in the direction he wants to go and move his back foot first! We are adamant about this. To lead step into the shuffle will cause the linebacker to be overextended and/or vulnerable to counter. After moving the back foot, slide the front foot laterally. Our linebacker will keep his elbows close to the body as he shuffles. He will not gallop!
-Shuffle Touch and Shuffle Hit Drills
When the shuffle is not fast enough, it is then necessary to cross over, open up the hips, and make the transition to the lateral run. The linebacker will keep his shoulders parallel (or nearly so) to the LOS and swing his arms naturally. The lateral run is the most important movement technique for inside linebackers.
-Block Destruction—High Block
Inside linebackers should expect to be blocked on every run play. One of the biggest adjustments for freshmen linebackers in college is to break the habit of running around blocks. In college, the block must be destroyed before a play can be made on the ball carrier. All blocks will be played with the hands.
Inside linebackers often stay blocked because they are “peeking” at the ball carrier as they are being blocked. It’s a little like being in a fight – if you are having a fight with someone, you had better be looking at that person, not somewhere else.
The linebacker will have his eyes on the blocker, but will be able to see the ball carrier peripherally. The “same hand-same foot” concept will be used. If the escape needs to be made to the right, the linebacker will contact the blocker with his left foot down the middle of the blocker, and vice-versa. The gap side hand should be on the shoulder of the blocker and the back side hand between the numbers. The hands should attack the blocker with the thumbs up and the elbows down. The blocker will be bench pressed with full extension.
After extension, our linebacker will lock out his gap side arm, push, pull, and escape the blocker with a rip technique. (We allow only very tall linebackers to swim or punch over to escape.) He will keep his shoulders parallel to the LOS as the escape is made.
Block Destruction—Cut Block
The linebacker will focus his eyes on the helmet of the blocker. As the blocker’s helmet goes low, the linebacker will get as much knee and ankle bend as possible. He will place his hands on the blocker’s ear hole and shoulder pad. The linebacker will do an “updown” off the blocker’s body.
As the blocker is “stuffed” with the linebacker’s hands, the linebacker’s feet will pop back to create separation. The defender’s shoulders should remain parallel to the LOS as separation is made, and the defender should be the first to move after separation.
-Thunder Splatter Drill
TO BE CONTINUED Part II will be posed tomorrow