Inside Linebacker Techniques and Drills to Develop Them
By Maury Waugh
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 back side backer versus power O will shuffle to a “stack and stay” position behind his fellow inside linebacker. We 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 earhole 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
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
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
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.
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.