AFM RSS Feed Follow Us on Twitter       

   User Name    Password 
      Password Help

Article Categories

AFM Magazine

AFM Magazine

Drills Report – Linebacker Progression Drills

by: Lane Reynolds
Defensive Coordinator, Hamilton High School (AZ)
© More from this issue

Click for Printer Friendly Version          

Coaching linebackers is an ever-evolving process. With today’s offensive schemes becoming more and more complex, we must ask more of our defensive players. I ask our linebackers to read keys, be aggressive run stoppers in the box, defeat blocks, get to the ball using a specific technique, tackle the ball carriers, find receivers and cover them up in zone concepts as well as cover backs and receivers man-to-man. While doing all this, I also expect them to know the game plan, call the defense, understand down, distance and field position, set the front, make checks on certain formations, shifts, motions, communicate before and during the play and above all, be leaders on and off the field. As I ask more and more from our linebackers, I coach them to be sound technicians while understanding their rules and run fits week-to-week. 

Regardless of scheme, all linebacker coaches can agree that we don’t want them “thinking” during the play, because that only produces slow and ineffective play. I require our linebackers to think before the snap, and react when the ball moves. Although there are many aspects and techniques that come with playing linebacker, their reaction on the snap is a key fundamental that needs to be stressed on a daily basis. To ensure my linebackers play fast and are only reacting during the play, I do a series of drills every day that mimic each movement that they will use on game night as it pertains to the run game. 

Theses drills, once taught, only take minutes to complete and like I tell my players, “Repetition breeds habit.” These drills all incorporate a good stance, read step, playing with a low pad level, quick feet, fluid hips, body position, speed, proper angles and fits, changing direction, eye progression, finishing the play and having an aggressive mentality. These are all coaching points as you progress through the drills.

The drill progression that we use every day includes:

    1.  Slow scrape
    2.  Scrape
    3.  Scrape and run
            A.  Downhill
            B.  Wide
    4.  Off-tackle
    5.  Angle
            A.  Fill
            B.  Bounce
            C.  Cutback
    6.  Fire
    7.  Backside cutback
Our linebackers always start each drill in a proper stance.  This includes:

•    Feet shoulder width or slightly wider, with         toes pointed forward.

•      Knees flexed and primed for action.

•      Back straight, not hunched with the chest up.

•      Chin up, not buried in chest, with eyes on         their keys.

•      Weight on the balls of the feet, with heels         slightly up.

•     Arms in a comfortable position with hands         open and thumbs up.

I emphasize that the first movement they take on every down from their stance is a read step. This is a quick, 4 to 6 inch step, initiated by their outside foot that enables them to see their keys and react appropriately. This gives the linebackers time to react to what their keys tell them.

I believe that coaching the linebackers’ eyes is the most overlooked skill in our profession. If a linebacker doesn’t see his keys, see the blocking scheme/threat, see the path of the runner or see the routes of the receivers, it makes playing the position that much more difficult. When I say “flash” to my linebackers, they know I’m talking about using their eyes. We go through a series of “flash” drills to teach them when and where their eyes should be on any given read. So when we conduct our drills, they are not only working on their physical skills, but also their eyes. Here are some linebacker drills we practice daily:

SLOW SCRAPE DRILL – In this drill, our linebackers work in a scrape technique for five yards. When moving laterally, we coach them not to cross one foot in front of the other. Doing so will force their body to turn, putting them at a bad angle to the ball carrier. Instead, have them shuffle their feet and move down the line with their body square to the ball carrier. They’re now in a position to defeat a block and put themselves in a proper fit. We slow this first drill down to half speed so that the players can concentrate on their technique and not have to worry about being fast. This allows them to work on low pad level, short lateral steps, square shoulders, “flashing” the eyes and finishing with a rip technique simulating the defeating of a block (Diagram 1).

Diagram Key:    Black Line = Read Step       Red Line = Scrape        Blue Line = Run

Diagram 1.

SCRAPE DRILL – In this drill, we now speed up the scrape to full speed for five yards while still insisting on proper technique. I usually stand at the last cone with a bag and have the linebackers rip through me so that they understand what it feels like to scrape and rip moving laterally to put themselves in the proper run fit (Diagram 2).

Diagram 2.

SCRAPE AND RUN DRILL (DOWNHILL) – In this drill, we have the linebackers scrape three yards laterally, then simulate defeating a block as they run the proper angle on a wide play. This drill teaches linebackers inside-out leverage as it pertains to a D gap (outside) run play (Diagram 3).

Diagram 3.

SCRAPE AND RUN DRILL (WIDE) – In this drill, we again shorten the scrape down to three yards. I then ask the linebacker to turn their shoulders and run ten yards laterally with a gradual “downhill” angle to the last cone. This simulates any type of wide play (toss, sweep) from the offense as we ask our backside linebacker to play with inside-out leverage as a secondary force player on the ball carrier (Diagram 4).

Diagram 4.

OFF-TACKLE DRILL – In this drill, we simulate any type of off-tackle play by having the linebacker scrape one yard, then attack the line of scrimmage at the proper angle.  When the linebacker reaches the LOS cone, we ask him to then finish the drill straight up the field, simulating contact on the runner, emphasizing leg drive and squaring up his shoulders on the ball carrier (Diagram 5).

Diagram 5.

ANGLE – FILL DRILL – In this drill, we simulate any type of play in the B Gap (lead, iso). The linebacker will explode out of his stance, with square shoulders and a low pad level, running through the gap at the proper angle and run fit (Diagram 6).

Diagram 6.

ANGLE – BOUNCE DRILL – This drill is exactly like our Angle-Fill Drill. Except, as the linebacker runs through the hole, he is then asked to re-direct outside as if the running back bounced the play. We tell the linebackers to plant their inside foot and drive flat out of the hole as they widen to keep their inside-out leverage on the ball carrier (Diagram 7).

Diagram 7.

ANGLE–CUTBACK DRILL – Again, this drill imitates our Angle-Fill Drill. Only now, when our linebacker gets through the hole, he is asked to plant his outside foot and flatten down inside as if the ball carrier has cutback. This drill works on our change-of-direction and pursuit angles inside (Diagram 8).

Diagram 8.

FIRE DRILL – In this drill, we are simulating any type of A gap run play (iso, give, trap). Because these plays are quick-hitting, we ask the linebackers to conduct their read step and “fire” straight ahead with a low pad level and square shoulders ready to hit the lead blocker or tackle the ball carrier. We stress to the linebackers that this technique should be fast and explosive. In most cases, I will stand with my arm out to the side, forcing them to stay low and fill the hole under my arm (Diagram 9).

Diagram 9.

BACKSIDE CUTBACK DRILL – In our defense at Hamilton High School, we always have a force and secondary force linebacker. The backside linebacker on any given run play is our cutback linebacker. To practice our technique when we are the cutback linebacker, understanding how to be a “slow-play” linebacker and not play overly aggressive, we run this drill. We tell our linebacker after his read step, to “flash” his eyes to the playside checking for any type of counter or reverse first as he starts his scrape. Once we determine that the ball is not coming back, our scrape continues slightly downhill to where the ball was snapped with square shoulders. Once he gets into that area, he can turn his shoulders and run through the cutback lane looking for the ball carrier to come back. As each play is different, we coach the linebackers to read the path of the ball carrier and take an appropriate angle and run fit (Diagram 10).

Diagram 10.

    All of these drills are worked from both sides, moving to the right and left. These drills can progress to a series of “read” drills in which the linebacker must execute these same movements on his key reads. We also do these same drills over bags. In our bag drills, I emphasize the same movements and coaching points, but force our linebackers to pick their knees up and work over bags as they “flash” their eyes to the proper player or target.

Our defensive coaches emphasize finishing each drill. From time to time, I will incorporate some type of turnover technique at the end of each of these drills. These finishing techniques include “scoop and score”, covering up a loose ball, catching an interception or the linebacker will punch/strip a ball out of a runners’ arms. We talk to our players every day about competing in everything they do. On every sprint, every rep, every drill and every snap we are competing at a high level. So sometimes I will time each linebacker through these drills and they will compete to see which linebacker has the best technique and the fastest time. The players enjoy that and it breaks up the monotony of practice. p

About the Author: Lane Reynolds has coached football for 22 years, and has been a coach at Hamilton High School since 2003. He is both the Linebackers Coach and the Defensive Coordinator.  Since coming to Hamilton, Reynolds has been part of six State Championships and over the past three seasons, Hamilton won a nation’s best 53 games in a row. Prior to arriving at Hamilton, Reynolds was the head coach at Desert Ridge High School (AZ). He also coached at Highland High School, Mesa Community College, Corona del Sol High School and Flagstaff High School. Reynolds played safety and outside linebacker at Northern Arizona University.


AFM Videos Streaming Memberships Now Available Digital Download - 304 Pages of Football Forms for the Winning Coach


Copyright 2024,
All Rights Reserved