Underneath Zone Coverage for ILB’s

Working to get inside linebackers to fully understand underneath zones in coverage is critical. Our philosophy here is that we will cover deeper routes, and break up on shorter ones. The big play occurs when your underneath defenders are out of position and/or they miss tackles in the open field.

I spend a lot of time working with my guys on a few important areas: identifying and getting to their drop, balancing up to break on the throw, and making the actual break. I’ve included some drills I use to address these particular skills.

Identifying/Reaching the Drop (Angle of Departure)

This drill is designed to make the LB focus on the angle he opens his hips as well as the route he takes to intercept the receiver’s route. There are three LBs on the sideline, equidistant from each other. I place a receiver on a yard line so that he can use that as a landmark on his vertical route. The R will run a vertical directly up the line. Each LB will drop to the intersection point from his position on the field. The nearest LB takes a more flat path, while the furthest takes the deepest angle. Upon reaching the point of intersection, the LB balances up and buzzes his feet until the whistle. I rotate them along the line so they get three successive reps, dropping from each angle.

Balancing Up to Break

In this drill, two ILBs will take the rep at the same time.  They will initially open their hips on a 45-degree angle, targeting the middle cone on their respective “side”. When they reach the “top of the drop”, they balance up with live feet. The QB will provide an indicator, and the LBs will work to the next cone in the direction of the indicator. You can work them one direction, or back and forth.


Breaking on Thrown Footballs

The purpose of this drill is to get your LBs working to the top of their drop, looking up receivers, and breaking on thrown footballs.  On the snap, the LB will open his hips and drop on a 45-degree angle to that receiver. He will balance up inside the man with live feet. The QB will then give him indicators. The LB should then work toward the respective receiver. When an indicator dictates, he will break on the throw to the receiver in his zone and make a play on the football. Be sure to have LBs work on opening their hips both ways, with a mirrored arrangement of the drill.


Working on these skills is important. However, it is critical to make sure your players are taking proper read steps on every snap, and not cheating the drill.

I hope these drills can be of use to you and your players.

I love meeting, and communicating with coaches. I can be reached at wrussel1@norwich.edu.