Linebacker Drills: Ultimate Guide


This post was written by five individuals; Jerry Gordon, author of Coaching the Under Front Defense, “Deuce” from Football is Life, Brophy from Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals, Joe Daniels from and Curtis Peterson author of Developing a Physical and Aggressive Offensive Line and Strong Football.

Coaching the Linebacker Stance Linebacker Steps Linebackers Taking on Blocks
Linebacker Tackling Drills Linebacker Blitz Drills Linebacker Pass Drop Drills

defensive drills linebacker drills


The following linebacker drill was stolen after visiting Vince Okruch’s Western Illinois 3-3 nickel practices as well as from Jeff Walker’s exhaustive work, “Coaching the 40 Nickel Defense”, which every coach absolutely needs to own. I find this drill to be the single most important technique reinforcement tool to develop consistent linebackers. This linebacker drill can be conducted at varying levels of difficulty and lends itself to training many players in rapid succession.


The linebacker drill represents the run fits for your linebacker group, broken into 3 distinct reactions; In, At, and Out (represented here in green, yellow, red).


The IN area is just any quick hitting play between the guards. This typically is the responsibility of the middle or stacked (inside) linebacker of the defense. Plays represented here would be dive, trap, or wedge.


The AT area will be an immediate responsibility of the bubble (outside) linebacker sandwiched between the guard and inside the tight end. Iso, zone, and power are common “At” runs.
The “out” area is any play leaving the box (outside the TE) towards the perimeter. Toss, sweep, stretch are all runs attacking the “out”.


We use this drill from day 1 after teaching stance and starts. It is best when it is repped at a high-tempo, with verbal cues provided, but no stopping of the drill. Make intensity the priority and discourage improper footwork. Don’t try to over-complicate the drill or trick your linebackers.

This should be an easy exercise to develop confidence in your players. Also, DO NOT use a ball in this drill, it will only slow you down and isn’t what you are reinforcing with this drill. We introduce the drill using (single) back flow. We aren’t an exclusive back-flow read team, as linemen keys are essential, but for the sake of indoctrination we develop the linebackers in stages.

The natural way to play linebacker is to just chase after backs. The old school way of doing this was lining your guys in front of other players hoping one of them can provide a decent offensive lineman block (down, pull, base, scoop, etc). This could be frustrating, because if your backer didn’t understand the block, he couldn’t progress in his development and damaged his confidence.

Whether it is ingrained at the lower levels or what, use this momentum to build their skill-set rather than trying to “break them” of bad habits. We start with a single back, then progress to adding guards with the read. During camp, we actually paint the field for this drill, just like the (Texas vs. OSU) illustration above.

To better explain this drill, it’s important to first understand what the benefits of it will be. The purpose is to train your linebackers on the proper:

  • Tempo
  • Footwork
  • Movement
  • Reads
  • Leverage
  • Run support fits

At the most basic level, this drill should be able to teach your linebackers how to read an offensive key post-snap. Once the player identifies this key, he should have a corresponding gap fit within the defense (determined by front/coverage). It is important that your second level defenders work with the front to close all the available gaps at the snap of ball.

The linebacker/safety group should be simultaneously responding in unison to prevent any running windows from staying open. Again, this comes back to tempo. Repeating this drill every day will allow your players to understand just how many steps (and the time window) it takes to respond to the runs you face.


We set this drill up just with a centered location (ball), a line of scrimmage, an offensive read player 5 yards deep from the ball spot, and linebackers in the called front alignment.


Linebackers will align with their heels at 5 yards from the LOS, keying the back. The back will be given one of the three responses and on command (cadence) will move towards the appropriate (In, At, or Out) area. When the back provides a read, the linebackers should shuffle and press the area being attacked and race through the LOS.

This drill should reinforce “run thru” gap support. It isn’t enough to get the initial footwork correct, there has to be follow-through on the execution. Once linebacker has committed to his gap, he should be running through the gap (tackling the ‘ball carrier’ isn’t necessary for this drill).

For this linebacker drill, once the linebackers acknowledge the key they are given, they just need to move correctly and blow through their fit. This drill should be run at a very high tempo and because it’s just being used for run fits, you can have lines of other defenders ready to take their turn at each linebacker spot once a play is run.



BACK: On command, step forward between the ball spot and the guard, and ¾ speed run to the LOS.

TO LB: Identifying the back is heading to the IN (the back is not laterally stepping or turning his hips outside), the linebacker should mimic the back’s footwork and step forward in a free run to the A gap. This linebacker should actually run past the back’s outside shoulder.

AWAY LB: If the away linebacker does not see the back’s shoulders heading toward him, he can rule out being threatened immediately. He will vertically press his gap with 2 shuffles, then race to stack the opposite A gap while keeping his shoulders parallel to the LOS. This linebacker should find himself inside the back as he reaches the LOS.



BACK: On command, take a lateral step in the direction of AT area. The next step should crossover this first step towards the area outside the tackle and ¾ speed run to the LOS.

TO LB: Identifying the back has gained outside momentum with the lateral step and the immediate IN area is not threatened, the linebacker should vertically press his primary play side gap for 2 steps. Once he sees the crossover step of the back (the back’s shoulders are no longer parallel with the LOS) he should free run to just inside the tackle position.

AWAY LB: As the back gains lateral distance from the ball spot, the linebacker would shuffle and press (staying parallel to the LOS) for 3 steps and on the fourth step engage a free run to stack the A gap inside-out, closing any potential cutback of the back.



BACK: On command, take an exaggerated step (open the hips to the sideline) outside and ¾ speed run to the sideline.

TO LB: With the back turning his body away from the IN and AT areas, where the linebacker can see the helmet earholes of the back, he should vertically press his primary gap for 2 steps, then ‘bounce’ to outside the tackle. He is inside-out on the back, closing any cutback lanes and spilling to the force player.

AWAY LB: With the back presenting his back to this linebacker’s play side, the linebacker should shuffle 3 steps and look to stack the away side A gap, and then run his feet. This linebacker has closed any cutback and is in position to go “over the top” of the front on a secondary pursuit angle if the back breaks the line of scrimmage (though it is not necessary to rep that in this drill).



For linebackers inside the tackle box, their feet should be within their body, slightly wider than shoulder-width and never leave this position until they are in a free run. Inside the box, there isn’t any room for false steps. If you’re in a 40 nickel/reduced front, you’ll have two true linebacker types to clean up between the tackles.

The quick hitting run game has to end with these two defenders, so they cannot be out of position. With the In-At-Out drill, these inside players should be moving with a shuffle technique; pushing off the away foot and catching with the destination foot. Coincidently, this is exactly how we teach shuffling in the secondary. At the snap, they should be moving forward, towards the ball, and laterally with their feet underneath them.

To get the most return out of this drill, you should be reinforcing HOW your linebackers should be moving towards their destination. The purpose is to develop a rhythm for playing the position, timing each step. This rote method will produce a comfort level of familiarity with your players, giving them more confidence in their role on the field and reduce hesitancy and “free lancing”.


This picture shows an ideal stance for an inside player. This position looks exactly like any 2-point defender would be in before he began any other essential drill (block destruction, 2 point extension, form tackling, etc) with his hips coiled and relaxed upper body, capable of moving in any direction.

As the linebacker initiates movement to his left, he should be driving off his right foot forcing his lead (left) foot to catch the ground at 6-8 inches from where it started. Once the lead foot “catches”, the linebacker has retained his shoulder-width base. He can redirect himself if needed because he hasn’t overextended his feet. Heels should not click and the player should not rise (keep knees bent).


Wide, exaggerated stances only lead to wasted movement inside the tackle box. Overhang/outside linebackers can be free to line up how they feel comfortable, as they will have much more area to respond to. Inside linebackers should be corrected out of this type of habit.


We’ve explained how this linebacker drill works with your inside linebackers. You can easily add overhang players to the drill with the main coaching point being:


OUT Action TO: Any outside action to, this defender should be free running up the field, closing the perimeter running lane for the back, keeping his shoulders square to the LOS.

The Back Action AWAY: linebacker should shuffle inside laterally for 3 steps and then gain depth from the LOS. The key is for this player to not get in a habit of turning his shoulders away from the LOS immediately but insure the cutback is closed before engaging in secondary pursuit.

When your players master the basics of back flow and linebacker movement, begin adding other read players like guards, wings, and other backs. Use complimenting reads to start. Whether your linebackers are consciously keying the guards or not won’t matter right away. Conditioning them to digest this added stimuli as they respond to flow is what matters.


Adding guards to the read


Adding a (lead) back to the read

We can add TE (and/or wing) or a second back, as well. We have used this linebacker drill facing zone-read, wing-t, veer, and power-I offenses. Modify the reads as you see fit, just remember what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re adding more and more offensive players, you might be better served to wait for “team” periods. Indy and Group linebacker drills should be 3-5 step, high repetition exercises to reinforce fundamental technique to get your players to not only do it right, but do it better than anyone else in your conference.


If the back flow and guard read are consistent, attack the appropriate gap.


If the back flow and guard read or not consistent, guard read wins out.

For a better detailed application of this drill, please visit Coach Barry Hoover’s football website at 4-3 OLB Play vs the Flexbone

I hope this has helped spark an interest for streamlining what you reinforce to your defenders and that fundamentals improved for you next season.

You can find more of Brophy’s work at Cripes! Get Back to Fundamentals, his awesome blog for coaches.

Video Presentation of Block Destruction and In-At-Out Drill – Joe Daniels

You can find more of Joe Daniel’s work at Football-Defense, which is an awesome resource. He sells several e-books, so check them out!

Linebacker Drills: First Step – CoachCP

I believe that linebacker drills for footwork always need to emphasize the stance, and also the proper first step. I believe strongly in first step linebacker drills. I like to place a smaller hand shield directly behind the linebacker. A linebacker should never directly back pedal. At the high school level, most of their steps should be in some direction forward too. Linebacker coaches should do this with as many drills as possible to stop the dreaded pushoff step that linebackers don’t even realize they do. Taking video can help too if you can’t use a bag, but I prefer the bag because sometimes the memory of hitting the bag stops them from doing it more than a mental note.

This bag drill can also be used to focus directly on linebacker drops. Very rarely does a Linebacker need to open straight back. He often will open to one side or another. A lot of times he will step up on the run first too. Regardless of how you choose to teach it, by keeping the bag small behind the linebacker in this linebacker drill, your inside linebackers can take their drops. I’ll cover more of that in the linebacker drills against the pass.

What’s really nice about this bag drill is how easily it can be incorporated into most linebacker drills against the run.

Linebacker Drills: First Step Reads

I highly encourage you to build a line drill just to work on run fits. This can be done without pads. Depending on how you teach reads, you can easily have the linebacker follow through the guards to the runningback in this linebacker drill. This will allow you to watch the footwork on the linebackers and incorporate the bag behind them to prevent false steps backwards. You can see how they react and if their stance is balanced.

Here is some linebacker drills video of a team doing some basic run fits with their linebackers without pads. Notice the points of emphasis, including the footwork and the finish. I also like how the coach starts by giving the players the direction and play the offense will use, and finishes up by mixing it up on them. This builds confidence in the technique early on.

Executing these half line linebacker drills in practice without pads, especially at a good tempo, is an effective way to break down a specific area of a linebacker’s fundamentals without being distracted by another element (aka the tackle). This also helps the kids learn. By giving a kid 5 areas of focus to work on, you suddenly overwhelm them. I target the main area of concern in the string of events (was it a bad stance that caused the problem rather than a bad step), because a series of problems will usually start with that first problem. A bad stance leads to a bad first step. Correcting the bad first step doesn’t cure the bad stance though. Start there, and if the step is still a problem, move to that area next.

Linebacker Drills: Wave Drill

The wave drill is a great way to rep these first steps. I call it the wave because the linebacker coach is moving his hands in all kinds of directions. Teaching the linebacker to react to movement in someway is so critical for training what the eye sees and how the body and footwork of the linebacker respond.

The coach will point in any of four directions. He will point to the linebacker’s left, and the linebackers will come down hill to the left, shuffling as they go. He will point to the right, and they will shuffle downhill to the right. He will point back and they will open their hips and drop back. Finally for these types of linebacker drills, the coach will point behind him and they will sprint forward to finish the play. For the left and right motions, you can have the linebackers in this drill open their hips in that direction for a pass drop instead of coming down hill for the run.

Linebacker Drills: Wave Drill

Linebacker Wave Drill. When coach points backwards, the LB’s drop like it was play action.

Again, here is some video kind of illustrating this. While the drill is a little different, the point is the same.

Linebacker Drills: Shuffling

I’m a big believer in shuffling to the point of attack. Shuffling, a technique advocated by linebacker guru and current Penn State Defensive Coordinator Ron Vanderlinden, leaves the feet in a good position to take on a block. Emphasizing this shuffle is pivotal for the success of the linebacker in maintaining his base throughout the play, from pursuing the ball carrier, taking on a block, and making the tackle.

Linebacker drills that focus on the shuffle include setting up bags about 2-3 feet apart and having the linebacker work over them from side to side. This will keep him from crossing over, which we don’t want to do. Don’t have him look down, so have use a visual key like in the wave drill. This will also keep his feet high, which is always good practice in order to prevent falling over trash. Finish with a fumble recovery or a form tackle.

Linebacker Drills: Shuffle Drill

Coach Keeps eyes Engaged as they shuffle

Another way to to teach when to shuffle, when to pursue, and/or when to turn and run is the hip pocket drill. The ball carrier and the linebacker stand about 5 yards apart. The linebacker wants to stay on the hip pocket of the ball carrier. The ball carrier lightly jogs, so the linebacker shuffles, keeping in on the back hip of the ball carrier so he doesn’t over pursue. Then the ball carrier runs lightly, picking up speed. The linebacker should keep his shoulders square (like he must do when shuffling), but turn his hips to run to maintain that his relationship on the hip pocket of the ball carrier. Finally for this linebacker drill, the coach gives a “GO” call and the ball carrier sprints. The linebacker should then sprint (simulating a toss sweep), regain his shuffle right before the tackle (avoiding crossing over his feet or else he will lose control and likely be run over) and then he will make the perfect tackle.

Linebacker Hip Pocket Drill

BC is the Ball Carrier. LB needs to stay in his hip pocket. This can be done with bags. Make the ball carrier pick a gap between the bags and make the tackle.


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One thought on “Linebacker Drills: Ultimate Guide

  1. Fred Wilson

    We run the 4-3 also; the linebacker drills will be great for them during our individual drills.

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