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AFM Magazine

Inside Linebacker Play & Progression

by: Van Vanatta
Defensive Line Coach, Central Methodist University
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Like any position on the football field there are a lot of different ways to prepare your players for game days. Of course linebackers are the backbone of almost every type of defensive scheme. They are involved in every run and pass play and must have the skill to find the football on every play.

Since there are so many multiple defensive schemes a linebacker must be ready to line up in a three point stance and stop the run or line up against a flanker and cover against the pass. Therefore, today’s linebackers must have the strength of a defensive lineman and the speed of a defensive back.

With this said, there are other qualities that I look at when evaluating players to fit the role of today’s linebackers. Each linebacker must meet certain qualities that we hope every student/ athlete strives to maintain. They must have character, intelligence, dependability, attitude, intensity, and be a leader (always ready for a challenge and follow the 3 T’s- Tradition, Talent, Training).

Once you have established these types of characteristics in your players it is time to start teaching them the game of football. I have broken down my practice progression into six parts, with each section being emphasized every day. They are as follows:
1. Key Reads
2. Flow Reads
3. Pursuit/ Angles
4. Delivery of Blow (DOB)
5. Pass Drops/ Coverage
6. Tackling

Of course, each task depends on the offensive play and the defensive call. So the trick is to have your linebackers prepared for every situation.

The first phase of practice is to teach your linebacker’s Key Reads (See Diagrams 1-7) and explain why the first step is the most important aspect to getting to the football. Key Reads are broken down into down, base, pull, zone, scoop, and pass blocks and LB’s have to learn how each block can get them closer to the ball. All drills are taught progressing from one step to three steps to game flow. The theory behind key reads is the read what coaches call the triangle: 1. read guard to 2. running back to 3. 3rd threat / Tackle, Tight End, Center, Crack Back Blocks.

Diagram 1. LB progression: Key Reads

Down Blocks (See Diagram 2)
• Step away and play downhill

Diagram 2. Down Blocks

Base Blocks (Diagram 3)
• Step away and attack hard

Diagram 3. Base Blocks

Pull Block (See Diagram 4)

• Step with and find flow of back
• Fast flow – flow hard downhill and don’t allow cutback
• Slow flow- shuffle flow and don’t over pursue

Diagram 4. Pull Block

Zone Block (See Diagram 5)
• Step with and work up to the next level
• LB’s must flow together to not allow cutback
• Must recognize RB flow (fast & slow)

Diagram 5. Zone Block

Scoop Block (See Diagram 6)
• Step with using short initial step and read RB flow
• This is the one read offenses used to give LB a false read; therefore it is important to teach your LB to just use key reads for your first step, and then they must find the RB flow.

Diagram 6. Scoop Block

Pass Block (See Diagram 7)
• False step / know coverage drop / drop to your zone
• I will discuss pass drops later in this article

Diagram 7. Pass Block

The second and third phase of practice is to teach the difference between fast and slow flow and how the pursuit depends on the RB flow or the direction of the play. As I mentioned above LB’s must pursue the football depending on the action of the play. This is why I am going to go into the third phase of my progression to help understand all types of pursuit and how LB’s flow depends on each movement of the running back. Remember, play together as a unit and realize that each LB might be seeing a different read and flow depending if they are the play side or backside LB (See Diagrams 8-11).

Direct Flow (Iso, dive) - See Diagram 8
• Use what I call plug pursuit
• See the hole and fill it
• Keep outside arm free and close down inside gap

Diagram 8. Direct Flow

Fast flow (power, belly, option)
(See Diagram 9)

• Scrape and fill
• Keep outside arm free and maintain gap responsibility

Diagram 9. Fast Flow

Slow Flow (backside LB against stretch, option) - See Diagram 10

• Shuffle looking to scrape forcing the RB to head outside
• Do not allow cutback

Diagram 10. Slow Flow

Counter Flow (traps, counter)
- See Diagram 11

• Backside LB shuffle, looking to fill backside
• Play side LB could see fold block (Tackle-down, guard pull to the outside)
• Pass flow (3 step, 5 step, play action, boot, sprint out)
• Key is teach LB’s to get to their drops according to the coverage called.

Diagram 11. Counter Flow

The forth phase of LB play is to teach them how to take on blocks through a progression of drills I call D.O.B. (Delivery of Blows). Each D.O.B. pertains to the different type of flow the LB will see, teaching LB’s the different techniques involved with defending a blocker (See Diagrams 12-13).

Push & Pull Technique (See Diagram 12)

Diagram 12. Push-Pull Technique

• LB’s must get hands in position on blocker to get them ready to scrape off block
• Outside hand on blocker’s outside shoulder, Inside hand on the middle of blocker’s chest
• Used with slow flow (Zone) to allow LB to stretch the play or to force RB to cutback.
• Can use either rip technique or pull technique to get off blocker

Reduce & Rip (See Diagram 13)

• LB must be prepared to rip though a block
• Reduce means to explode on moment of contact with inside foot up, collision with inside shoulder. On the moment of contact short step with the outside foot and rip with inside arm.
• IMPORTANT to get outside foot up, helps to fight pressure with pressure.
• Used against fast & direct flow (power, ISO, dive) Cut blocks -
• LB must learn to play with their hands
• Used on every play depending on offensive schemes.

Diagram 13. Reduce and Rip/Cut Blocks

The fifth phase of practice is to teach LB’s the proper way to drop into pass coverage. Of course each defense uses different coverage’s and alignments when it comes to pass coverage. At this time I will explain a couple of our pass drops, when to use them, and what types of techniques are used. (See Diagrams 14-17)

Hash Drops (HTC - hook to curl)
- See Diagram 14

• Drops should be 8-10 yards on the hash, or take away the hook to curl zones. We just use hash marks as a dropping point.
• Drops change depending on ball location (right, middle, left)
• We use these drops more in cover 3 looks
• The key technique is to open to receiver strength to take away 1st threat.

Diagram 14. Hash Drops

Stab Drops (See Diagram 15)
• Used when other LB is blitzing or in certain cover 2 looks
• Short stab- 8 yards in the middle of the field looking for TE dumps, drags, screens.
• Deep stab- drop to the middle of field, keep going trying to take away backside post and to help the safety.
• The key techniques are to use swivel hips turning on QB eyes and remember that the only thing that stops my drop is when the football is thrown.

Diagram 15. Stab Drops

Replacement Drops (See Diagram 16)
• Used when an outside LB is blitzing, can be used with a zone blitz concept.
• We use a + alignment, which means to take one step back and 2 steps over.
• The key technique is to teach LB to buzz to their 1st threat to replace where the OLB would have been. Once the area is clear drop into your normal zone.

Diagram 16. Replacement Drops

Contain Drops (See Diagram 17)
• Used against the roll out or bootleg.

• Play side LB will attack the QB, keep him to our inside, while backside LB will replace into the hook to curl coverage area (Watch for drag and never chase, stay in your zone)

Diagram 17. Contain Drops

Finally, the last phase and probably the most important phase is tackling. We do our own tackling progression like all coaches do. Just remember it is important to teach your players proper technique and not to think that your players know how to tackle. Do it everyday and do not be afraid to keep it simple. No matter what drill you use teach LB’s proper angles, head placement, correct body position, and to never leave there feet (teach them to run through the ball carrier and that takedowns only score point in wrestling). Once you feel your Linebacker’s have the just skills necessary to understand the simple techniques involved you can begin to design your drills using several phases of progression techniques.

I hope that this article gave a little insight on playing inside linebacker and how important it is to teach any position in progression. There is no right or wrong way when it comes to the great game, it is just important to teach your scheme, so that it becomes instinctual and your players are prepared. Remember “PRACTICE PREPARATION PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE”.


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