What’s in a name? The name “linebacker” is exactly that! They back up the defensive line. They are the leaders of the 11 man defense and they begin every play by relaying the coach’s defensive call to the players for execution. They play hard physically and emotionally and have a mental talent that allows them to excel at football. They really do want to hit (tackle) someone!
My son is a linebacker. He is about 6’2 and weighs about 235 lbs. The linebackers are smaller than the defensive line and they need to be to be able to move quicker in order to get to the quarterback or ball carrier.
They are extremely talented athletes, with so much responsibility on the field, their position has become more of a combination of positions over the years.
There is no set spot for a linebacker. You might even see them moving around before the ball is hiked. The linebackers can move before the ball is hiked but they are not allowed to cross the line of scrimmage. Sometimes you will see a linebacker moving forward and backward (starting and stopping). They are trying to get the offense confused. By moving around, the defense is able to disguise their intentions like whether they are going after the quarterback or dropping back to disrupt a pass.
Usually there are 3 linebackers on the field for a play. But sometimes, depending on what the coach sees the offense doing, a linebacker will be replaced with another defensive player. It all depends on what the offense is expected to do.
Linebackers have good instincts, they have the ability to think on their feet and their reaction time is low considering their size. Because they are so versatile in skill and technique, once the ball is snapped (hiked) they often leave their assigned areas to go after the quarterback. This is called blitzing…..when a defensive player goes after the quarterback.
Linebackers usually line up behind the players on the defensive line which equates to approximately 4 yards back from the line of scrimmage (where the ball is snapped). Over the years, the three linebackers have adopted the names of Sam, Mike and Will to distinguish who goes where.
“Mike” stands for “M”iddle linebacker. He lines up and is in the middle of the other two linebackers. His job is to make tackles and to direct the defense as to which formation they are to have according to what the coach has called. Some teams in the NFL will call their own defensive formations. “Mike” will focus on reading the running backs and the quarterback because his job is to go where the ball is.
“Sam” stands for “S”trong side of the formation. “Sam” will be on either the right side of the ball or left depending on what side the offense has more receivers and tight ends on. For example, if the offense has two receivers and a tight end on the right side and only one receiver on the left, that makes the right side the strong side and “Sam” will line up directly across from them. He will either rush the pass or drop back to a certain area and defend a pass if it is thrown his direction.
“Will” lines up across from the “W”eak side of the formation….the side with less receivers and or tight ends.
Keep in mind, this description of the linebacker position is totally relative. Some teams don’t even use the names Will, Sam and Mike. Some teams assign their linebackers to different formations constantly and you would have to be a coach or a player to understand it. I have discussed the linebacker position if general terms and in the most common and basic formations in this post.
What is important to understand is that the linebackers are responsible for telling the defense what to do in each play. They will yell “right” or “left” and the players will react accordingly. The goal is a sack or tackle.…..
“A player is credited with a tackle when he single-handedly brings down and offensive player who has possession of the ball. A shared tackle is called an assist. Many teams award an assist whenever a defensive player effectively joins in on a tackle.”
And let’s be real folks, sometimes it takes several guys to bring one ball carrier down.
A player is also credited with a sack when he tackles the quarterback, for a loss of yards, behind the line of scrimmage. A sack is what every linebacker aims for and can also be shared by another player. If two players sack a quarterback they each get credit for half a sack. Sacks are like gold in football and some professional players have negotiated bonuses in their contracts for achieving a certain amount of sacks!
Two players, one player, three linebackers…WHEW! It can be confusing. Tomorrow I will go over two of the most common defensive formations that you will see in a real game of football. We will also talk about man-to-man coverage and zone coverage, so for now get some rest because things are just heating up as we work our way into the third quarter of this series. Let’s keep our lead and finish strong!