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January 2014

January 2014

Step Lively! Linebacker Movements vs. the Run

by: Mike Ricketts
Defensive Coordinator, Hope College
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Before teaching these movements, we insist on linebackers learning the correct body position. The fundamental body position allows a linebacker to achieve leverage and power. I spend many hours teaching a basic linebacker stance, which is a stationary position. I want a linebacker to stem, move around, and basically be active. Newton’s first law of motion is that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless an external force acts upon it. This is as true in football as it is in physics. An active linebacker forces blockers to anticipate and communicate. This may cause a blocking error and makes the linebacker harder to block.

Thorough teaching and practicing of fundamental body position allows a linebacker to be active and more productive. The foundation of the fundamental body position starts with the feet and finishes at the head. The correct body position of a linebacker includes:

1.    Feet are under the hips with toes pointed straight forward.
2.    Ankles are flexed.
3.    Knees are bent and slightly inward over the insides of the feet.
4.    Waist is slightly bent.
5.    Shoulders are back with chest out with numbers showing, which creates a squatters arch in back.
6.    Eyes are focused on their key.
7.    Elbows are slightly bent next to ribs.
8.    Hands are relaxed in front of waist.
9.    Head is within the framework of the feet.

The majority of the weight is on the balls of feet. The proper bend/height is when a linebacker can move in any direction without changing their center of gravity. A linebacker in a fundamental body position will be able to move quickly and efficiently and be powerful against an opponent, either by defeating a block or making a tackle. It’s a strong and powerful position. A key to maintaining proper body position during movement is having the elbows stay close to the ribs.

In short, the fundamental body position is knees over toes, shoulders over knees, eyes up, and elbows tight. In order to establish fundamental body position, the coach needs to introduce the position through verbal and visual teaching and stress his coaching points through repetition.

Once a linebacker understands the fundamental body position, he needs to be able to move while staying in the position or to get back into the position quickly. Linebackers must repeat the motion until it becomes second nature. At this point, teaching can progress to the four main types of movement.

The Attack

The attack is a basic movement of running forward to attack a blocker or ball carrier. Fundamental body position is important because contact is going to occur quickly. One player may have the ability to control his body during contact while another may need to transition into foot fire right before contact is made. This will enable him to effectively defeat a block or make a tackle.

The Foot Fire

The foot fire is rapid firing of the feet, as if walking on hot coals without shoes, while moving sideways toward the line of scrimmage and keeping shoulders parallel to LOS. Fundamental body position must be maintained with this movement. This movement is used when a linebacker makes contact to defeat a blocker or make a tackle. Foot fire allows for quick redirection if the offense runs any type of misdirection or the linebacker responds in the wrong direction. A linebacker should be in foot fire mode when he only needs to move one or two gaps.

The Slide

    The slide allows a linebacker to cover more distance quickly by pushing off the foot away from where the linebacker is going. During the slide, feet stay close to the ground, skimming the top of the grass or blades of turf while not getting much wider than outside the edges of the shoulders. Fundamental body position should be maintained. The slide is used when a linebacker must move more than two gaps. Once a linebacker gets to a position where contact will happen - to defeat a blocker or make a tackle - he needs to transition into the foot fire.

The Crossover Run

The crossover run allows a linebacker to cover a greater distance quickly. It is properly performed by crossing the left foot/leg over the right when going right and crossing the right foot/leg over the left when going left. Fundamental body position should be maintained with the exception of the feet. The crossover run will be used when a linebacker needs to quickly cover a lot of ground. A few examples are a quick pitch, swing pass, and bubble/quick screen for an inside linebacker. The crossover run movement will transition from and into the slide. 


Combinations are likely during every play. A successful linebacker must continue to work on each movement and transitions from each combination. For example:

•  Attack – foot fire vs. lead.
•  Foot fire – slide – foot fire vs. outside zone, option, and power.
•  Foot fire – slide – attack – foot fire – sweep.
•  Foot fire – slide – crossover run – slide – foot fire vs. option,
    quick pitch, and swing pass.

Linebackers need to develop a feel for proper body position. This will take time, consistent work, and encouragement from coaches and teammates. Linebackers will need to develop confidence in their footwork through drill work in order to perform each movement and to make the transitions. I have found it to be common for linebackers to slide and use the crossover run too soon; that is, when the ball is within a gap or two of them. When this happens, it is likely they will get out of position for any misdirection play or defeating a block. Keeping the elbows close to the ribs helps maintain proper body position. Fundamental body position and movements will allow linebackers to be a strong link between the defensive front and secondary.

About the Author: This is Mike Ricketts’ 15th season on the staff of Hope College. He serves as both defensive coordinator and safeties coach. Ricketts’ first stint at Hope was from 1995-1998. He then coached at his alma mater, Augustana College (IL) from 1999-2002 before rejoining the Hope staff. Ricketts also coached at Eastern Illinois, St. Lawrence, and Frostburg State. He graduated from Augustana in 1988 and was a three-year starter and All-American linebacker.

More like this:

Linebacker Play: Knowing Your Assignment Pre-Snap – January, 2011
Linebacker Play: Reading Windows to Stop the Run – March, 2010
The Tools to be a Linebacker – February, 2007

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