Inside Linebacker Techniques and Drills to Develop Them (Part II)


By Maury Waugh, Inside Linebackers Coach

Trine University


We do not subscribe to the “Hawk” tackling theory with inside linebackers at Trine. There certainly is some merit to Hawk tackling on the perimeter and in the secondary, but we do not believe in it for linebackers in the box.

A Trine linebacker will “settle” into a bent knee position and buzz his feet as the approach to the ball carrier is made. The linebacker will take the extra step to get as close to the ball carrier as possible. “Step on his toes” is the rather unrealistic goal for getting as close as possible. The backer should achieve low man status through knee bend, not forward lean.

The backer will keep his elbows close to the body and does not wind up! He leads with the near leg and near number, knowing his leverage on the ball carrier. A Trine inside linebacker is always an inside-out tackler when we are in zone coverage. The tackler will make chest to chest contact with his head up, his back arched, his neck bulled, and his eyes open. He will execute a double uppercut on the ball carrier, reaching up for the nameplate on the back of the ball carrier’s jersey and grabbing cloth. He will move his feet on contact and run through the tackle until the ball carrier is on the ground. We preach that the linebacker should never trade a solid tackle for a big hit!


-Chute Tackle Drill

-Rapid Fire Tackle Drill

Zone Coverage

We are believers in the hook shuffle technique in zone coverage. We have found that opening the hips on zone drops causes us to lose vision on the quarterback, or the receiver over whom we are dropping, or the landmark (if applicable).

In the hook shuffle we can’t cover as much ground as when we open our hips and run, but because our shoulders are more or less parallel to the LOS, we have much better vision on the quarterback, we are able to make collisions more effectively, and we are able to adjust more effectively to receivers curling or running the dig behind us and inside of us.

As our linebacker hook shuffles, he uses a head swivel technique, but it is not nearly as extreme as when we formerly opened up our hips and ran. We will read the release of the appropriate receiver(s). We still emphasize colliding with any receiver who comes near us. Our linebackers will play pure zone coverage, and will not follow receivers in our zone, but anticipate certain routes according to game plan. Our defenders will tell adjacent defenders when a receiver is crossing into their zone. Communication is a must.

Our defenders will read the elevation of the front shoulder of the quarterback. If the quarterback’s front shoulder is high, the pass is going deep. If the quarterback’s front shoulder is down, the pass is going underneath.

Our linebackers will anticipate the beginning of the throwing motion. The quarterback’s shoulder will point in the direction of the pass and his front foot will point in the same

direction. As soon as the quarterback’s front hand comes off the football, he is committed to throw.

Our linebackers will make a “ball” call when the football is thrown. This is important because other defenders may not have seen the ball thrown. Once the football is thrown, all underneath defenders must be running full speed toward the football until it hits the ground.

We will make the interception in front of the receiver, catching the football with the hands at the highest point possible. We will yell “Bingo” and sprint toward the goal line, working toward the near sideline with the football in the outside arm.


-Hook Shuffle Drill

Man Coverage

At Trine we play man coverage only about 15% of the time, but we practice it about 50% of the time allotted to coverage in individual periods. Many of our young linebackers have not played much man coverage in high school.

We will play aggressive man coverage the vast majority of the time, unless the coverage dictates otherwise. The linebacker will focus on the receiver (usually a running back) and immediately close the distance between him and the receiver. He will not allow the receiver to get inside position.

If the receiver goes vertical or makes an outside move, the linebacker will stab him with his inside hand, which will cause his hips to open toward the receiver. He will have “man eyes.” The linebacker will not sneak a look at the quarterback.

If the receiver attempts to go inside the linebacker, he will stab him with both hands, with his hips already facing him. Our linebacker will jam the receiver down into the LOS.

As the receiver gains depth and/or width outside of him, the linebacker will run with him, employing the “trail” technique by staying to the receiver’s inside and slightly behind him.

Linebackers will play all pass routes from underneath the receiver. When the receiver’s eyes get big and his hands go up, our linebacker will turn into the man and make the interception or breakup.


-Buzz Drill

-Stair Step Buzz Drill

At Trine we do our best to avoid boredom for our linebackers. Our philosophy is to change up our drills frequently – even though some comparable drills may teach many of the same techniques – so the players don’t get into a routine or lose their enthusiasm.