Linebacker Drills: Ultimate Guide


Linebacker Drills for Defeating Blocks

It’s critically important for every linebacker to understand the proper methodology for defeating blocks in space. Taking on a block with something as small as the feet switched will lead to the linebacker being washed down the line of scrimmage. We need to build linebacker drills, and rep them everyday, that work on destroying the blocks of offensive linemen, fullbacks, tight ends, and anyone else who tries to get in the way of the linebacker and the ball carrier.
defensive drills linebacker drills

Basic linebacker fundamentals for defeating a block

Linebackers need to be pretty much in the same body position as their stance when they take on a block. Linebackers who learn to move in this stance will save the most time and energy. When a blocker meets the linebacker, the linebacker should not try to step around the blocker to get to the edge of him, aka don’t make contact with your outside foot up. Whenever a linebacker takes on a block, he must make contact with his inside foot up. This will allow him to easily roll his hips into the blocker, and maintain proper balance. By stepping outside the block, with the outside foot up, and easy shove by the blocker will push him past the hole.

Besides staying low and meeting the blocker with our inside foot, we need to emphasize that linebackers be violent with their hands. Some people say they need to stun the blocker. I think you need to dismantle him, aka you hear the head gear shake, with a jaw dropping hand strike. Hands should fire inside, thumbs up, and at an upward angle into the blocker. If an offensve linemen can get his body into the block, it’s game over unless you are just a bigger, stronger athlete. Dismantle the blocker with a jaw dropping blow, using your eyes on the blocker but your peripheral vision on the ball carrier. As soon as you shock the ball carrier, rip the arm through the blocker and make the tackle.

Linebacker Drills for Defeating Blocks in Space

My favorite way to incorporate linebacker drills to defeat blocks in space is to go right back to our tackling drills and incorporate it into our open field tackling, except maybe shrink the “open field” a bit to give more realistic ideas of pursuit for the ball carrier (so he doesn’t just run wild). The blocker should lead the way for the ball carrier. At first, it may be good to have the ball carrier go the same direction each time, so the fundamentals can be worked on. If not, a linebacker may be too worried about guessing where the ball carrier is going rather than relying on technique.c

Linebacker Drills: Blocks in Space

OL is the blocker, BC is the ball carrier. Linebacker needs to take best angle, defeat the blocker, and make the tackle. Ball carrier should not run full speed.

The linebacker needs to identify the direction and angle of the ball carrier and the blocker. If the ball carrier takes a poor angle with his blocker, and the linebacker and make the tackle without engaging, he should. However, if the ball carrier takes a proper angle, we we should have to engage the blocker. Step with the inside foot and dismantle the blocker, as indicated above. If the ball carrier cuts back inside of us, it maybe easier to pull the blocker to the outside and drive off of him to make the tackle. So we don’t always have to rip to disengage the blocker.

Linebacker Stance

It is critical to start back at the linebacker stance. Identify any problems with the stance before moving forward with analyzing the tackle. A bad tackle could very well be the result of a poor stance.

Linebacker Tackling Drills and Fundamentals

Note: Tackling drills should be incorporated into your drills EVERY SINGLE DAY. I don’t care if one day is offense and one day is defense, two core fundamentals that should be worked on by your players who play any defense is tackling and block destruction. On offense, blocking and taking on a tackle is important. Bring both groups together, or if its the same group (people play both ways), they will get work on one then flip the groups. 

I highly encourage a using a wide variety of tackling drills. Tackling is the most important aspect of linebacker play, even more so than the stance. The finish of any play, in this case tackling, is that most critical element.

Linebacker Tackling Drills: Basic Tackle Drill

Start with every linebacker partnered up across someone about an arms length apart. The linebacker should step with the foot that will put his head on the football side. AKA, if the ball is on the linebackers left side, he should step with his right foot to split the feet or the crotch of the ball carrier. He should pound that foot into the ground and roll over his knee (aka the weight on his foot should go from back to front) very quickly and he should shoot the hands and bring his shoulders just above the hips. Some coaches have different hand placements. Some shoot up so the hips naturally rolls. Some grab the buttocks of the ball carrier so they can stop leg drive. I tend to go with the first option for high school kids, because talented runners often have strong legs, much stronger than our kids upper body. As they shoot the hands and make contact with the shoulders, the head should go to the ball and their eyes should immediately look up.

Here is some video on some linebacker tackling drills. Now this one never does straight up tackling, everything is at an angle, which, if your practice time is limited, isn’t a bad idea. It is indeed rare that you will tackle straight on.

Their second step should be stepping outside the ball carrier at this point as well. Now the linebacker should drive his legs and lift the ball carrier to the sky… NOT WITH HIS ARMS… but with his shoulder. This creates the natural hip movement we want. Ideally, his shoulder pad should be underneath the chest portion of the runningbacks pad.

As he moves his hips up to bring his shoulders up, he must continue driving his feet. It’s also critically important to NOT close your eyes (try to have a coach stand behind the ball carriers to see this). When players close their eyes, they stop their feet and can’t full grasp the next step of the process.

I’m a strong believer that the ballcarrier should not jump. I was at a school that did this for two years. It’s utter crap, and it does nothing but hurt you. Sorry for the strong opinion, but it set us so far back. Yes, it helps with working the hips, but it doesn’t simulate a game scenario, and encourages the defender to stand up. We want them to work to be lower in practice.

The ballcarrier, in this drill, shouldn’t give resistance, but by jumping your creating something that NEVER happens in a game. You create a different feel to the tackle. I highly suggest not doing this. In this drill, emphasizing a take down isn’t as important. The close proximity nearly makes this impossible. Ron Vanderlinden teaches the kids to throttle down, and finish in a perfect fit on the ball carrier. I like this idea a lot. Trying to force a kid to the ground leads to sloppy fundamentals.

Linebacker Tackling Drills: Angle Tackle Drill

I’m a big believer in the angle tackle drill because it happens all the time. I’m also a big believer in making the linebacker drill specifically read the steps of the back. This helps the reaction time and body control of the linebacker, even if the ball carrier has two options. So I will either lay boards down, or if there is a lot of space use cones. With the boards, we’re only a couple of yards apart.

The back immediately picks a path, and the linebacker goes in that direction, using proper footwork. As he makes contact, his shoulders should make contact at or just above hip level, and he needs to try to fight to get his head across the chest. He should shoot both hands around the body and again lift with the shoulders (aka, the hips lip him, not the hands). The shoulder will raise and drive up through the ball carrier’s near armpit if it’s open. In this, there is a higher chance for the take down.

Open Field Angle Tackle Linebacker Drill

When you have more space for this drill, I will start with one cone for the ball carrier to make a decision about. He will run forward, make a cut at the cone and go in that direction. The linebacker will run, staying low, and make contact at the correct intersection angle.

A lot of people think when a linebacker in this drill has his head behind the ball carrier that he is either too slow or has bad tackling technique. I challenge linebacker coaches to watch the footwork at the breaking point here. A false step here can easily cause the linebacker to fall behind and take a bad angle. As he rushes to make the tackle, he uses poor technique. The real problem is the footwork, which caused everything else to breakdown.

Linebacker Drills: Angle Tackle

Linebacker should not false step. Read the back, maintain hip pocket relationship.

The next level of this open field angle tackle drill is adding two cuts and adding two tacklers. I like a secondary player and a linebacker here. Again, the ball carrier runs to the first cone and make a cut either left or right, and he goes down hill. The linebacker and safety start 6-7 yards apart.

Linebacker Drills: Angle Tackle with a Safety

Communication, Trust, and Teamwork are practiced here

The ball carrier will approach a second cone as the linebacker and safety pursue. He will make another cut, either left or right. The safety should make an outside call (“OUTSIDE!”) and the linebacker should make an inside call (“INSIDE!”). This way they know they have help and where it is at.While the LB will always be inside and the safety will always be outside, the angle of the tackle changes. If the ball carrier cuts back towards the linebacker, he must redirect and cut him off, selling out to maintain leverage.He needs to remember that he has help, so he can really fight for that presence.

If the ball carrier breaks to the outside, the safety needs to sell out to the sidelines, and the linebacker will be there to support any cutback. This drill is a true open field tackling drill, but each scenario provides a unique opportunity to evaluate a different aspect of your linebacker’s (and safety’s) fundamentals.

Linebacker Tackling Drills: Using the Track Pad

Especially for younger kids, I think using a pad is a great way to get full speed linebacker tackling drills going. Having a player make contact and have both taken down to a pad just seems to get the juices flowing. The pad can help create the tackle as well, without having the call carrier jump.

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

Linebacker Tackling Drills: Tackling After Defeating a Block

One aspect of tackling that I think is underutilized is the tackle where you’re in a bad situation. You just defeated a block, and the ball carrier is about to run past you. A lot of defenders give up at this point, especially if their seemingly out of reach.

One drill I like to do this is tackling the body length shields, the ones that stand 4-5 feet tall that likely have a handle on top. Have a linebacker defeat a block and have someone else, at light jogging speed, run by and drag the one end up the pad with arm nearest the linebacker.

The linebacker will probably be in a poor position, but he should sell out for the feet of the ball carrier before he passes him by. So for this drill, the linebacker will simulate that by going for the bottom portion of the body length shield. As he grabs it, he will tuck the “legs” or the shield to his chest and drive with his outside foot and twist so he rolls.

The twist is pivotal for success in real game scenarios when tackling the runners lower body. Depending on grabbing moving feet alone is not good enough, because high step drills will put you out of position. Pulling the pad to the chest and rolling will change the path of the ball carrier’s legs in the real world, and bring him to the ground abruptly.

This can be simulated also in a lot of ways (not just coming off the block. Have defenders do an up down or something, or just have them start with their chest or back on the ground to make a play or run around some trash (aka someone being blocked). This is an effort drill, yes, but it simulates a poorly coached (by the masses) in game scenario that happens a lot. Our defenders must make every effort to bring down the ball carrier, and this teaches them that effort and the technique to do so.

Linebacker Tackling Drills: Tackling While Being Blocked

Making a tackle while being blocked is tough. However, it will happen in a game, the linebacker will be in his gap and the ball carrier will try to punch it.

The linebacker should start with a blocker right infront of him. The linebacker should engage the blocker. The ball carrier should make a very tight cut (not a wide one, make him run between cones if that is a problem). The linebacker should disengage in the direction of the ball carrier and, using the body length bad drill, tuck his legs and role. If you don’t want to risk injury, just use the bag again. But make that linebacker feel the back.

Here is a linebacker drill video I found on youtube that highlights this drill.

Linebacker Blitz Drills and Philosophy – Deuce

Linebacker Blitz Drills: “Why Blitz” Philosophy

Why blitz? The blitz has been around in football for numerous years, yet when asked most defensive coaches will tell you “to get pressure”. This answer, however, is not entirely true, and for those that think this way you are really missing out on the ultimate goal of blitzing. So why blitz? Well, let’s take a look at what the blitz can do for the defense.

    1. The obvious reason is to provide an extra pass rusher for the defense, thereby rendering offensive protection schemes defenseless if the extra rusher is not accounted for.
    2. To gain leverage on a particular run play or blocking scheme.
      1. Blitzes can be called to help linebackers (LB’s) or defensive backs (DB’s) who might not be as adept at taking on lead blockers gain a leverage advantage on a blocker by being in a better position when the ball is snapped.
    3. To remove the reads from the LB position thereby helping to “speed up” the player by telling him where to go rather than having him read where to go.
      1. Our odd stack front friends have done this for years now, and have had very good success. Why read a play when you can attack a play?
    4. To create confusion in the offense that you are facing. By moving and blitzing coupled with stunting, the defense can turn the tables on the offense and is now in “attack mode” instead of a read-and-react mode.

Linebacker Blitz: When to Blitz

These are just a few reasons of why to blitz, but another question is when to blitz? This is not as easily answered, in my opinion, as the why blitz question, however there are some times and game situations where the blitz may be needed. Blitzing just for the sake of blitzing is not suggested. The blitz should have a purpose that is engrained in your defensive scheme and philosophy. The players must understand why they are blitzing, and what to do if the offense counters with certain plays or motions etc. Here are some of the times when I feel it’s a good time to blitz.

      1. When a starting offensive lineman (OL) or running back (RB) goes down with an injury.
        1. The old saying here “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin’” comes to mind here, as most probably wonder about my ethics on this one. However, the backups have not spent as much time at blitz pickup as the starter, and let’s face it, they are backups for a reason. When the starter goes down, it might be a good time to attack that position and see how well they pick up your blitz.
      2. On first down
        1. Most offensive coordinators (OC’s) expect vanilla defenses on first downs, so why not give them chocolate?! Exactly! I always liked to blitz on first down, and most notably a good safe blitz such as a fire zone that was good for both the run and the pass. I liked to pick a blitz I had dialed in to stop my opponent’s favorite base play, as that is more than likely what they would run on first down.
      3. When the offense is backed up.
        1. Some will argue it’s better to sit back and wait here, however, the offense is already under a lot of pressure, so I like to see just how much more pressure they can handle. If you have screen and draw protection built into your blitzes (as I recommend), then you can really pin your ears back and get after the offense in this situation.
      4. When the offense least expects it.
        1. I know this is kind of generic, but I like to blitz when my opponent thinks I won’t. My favorite is blitzing after the offense has burnt me with a blitz. I do this for two reasons, first, the OC is not expecting so he may not account for the blitz in his play calling (especially if you do not blitz much to begin with). Secondly, it shows the OC and your players you believe in the blitz, and you players’ ability to run the blitz.

When Not to Blitz

Along with when to blitz, is when not to blitz. There are times that the blitz is just not recommended. Here are some situations I would stay away from calling a blitz.

      1. Against the option.
        1. Especially if I had to go to man coverage to run the blitz. The occasional fire zone against the option is not a bad thing, as most think, however cover zero blitzes are very dangerous against option teams, and therefore not recommended.
      2. Against tight splits
        1. Tight splits are aggravating, and in most cases blitzing these does not yield much in the way of results as most players get caught in the “wash” created by foot-to-foot blocking schemes (such as those found in Double Wing, Single Wing and Wing-T offenses). In most cases an edge blitz can be a good way of attacking this type of offensive scheme.
      3. On the goal line.
        1. This one is fifty-fifty for me, because sometimes I do blitz down inside the ten yard line. However, I like to make the offense work for every inch they gain in this area of the field and keeping all eyes on the football is key to doing so. I prefer to play a goal line zone and if I do pressure, use a zone blitz instead of a man blitz. Man to man near the goal line can yield mixed results and usually, in my case, led to six points, due to undersized DB’s having the fade thrown on them. I’d rather make that quarterback (QB) have to work to get the ball down the field rather than giving him the easy pitch and catch on the fade pattern to the corner of the end zone.
      4. Against good screen teams.
        1. This one is pretty obvious. However, this does not mean I won’t blitz a screen team, but I will choose carefully, based on scouting data, when and where to blitz. I will also do a lot of “bluffing” in an attempt to get a good screen team to check into a screen so that now my defenders can anticipate and jump the screen play.

Linebacker Blitz Drills: Open Window/Closed Window

Now I’m going to show you how I drill the linebackers on how to blitz. Linebacker drills on blitzing and technique are just as important to your team’s success as choosing when to blitz. Many coaches simply say “hit your gap”, or “blitz the open window”. This is not a recommended coaching tactic as many of your players may not understand what is trying to be accomplished by blitzing. The idea here is to teach the linebacker how to blitz, and how to react if the offense has done their homework and is in position to pick up the blitz. Here are some linebacker drills I like to use to teach my linebackers to be effective blitzers.

Drills for Linebackers Open Closed Window

Open Closed Windows

Just as the drill states, I’m going to teach linebackers to find the opening in the offense. It is easy to align your defense against a bag or dummy offense and have guys hit gaps, because all these gaps are open and static. As a good coach though, you must understand the nature of football and the simple fact that gaps can and will move. Teaching your linebackers to adjust their blitz path is essential to making them more aggressive when attacking the offense. The Open Window/Closed Window drill does just that.

To start, have five players holding dummies stand in a line facing the linebacker as to mimic an offensive line. Have a single running back in the backfield with the football, or if you lack a player for this position, use a coach if you have one.

The drill starts by telling the linebacker what gap he is to blitz, followed by the coach telling the offensive line what gaps to open/close. There are two ways to do this, you can have the offensive line step together and close a gap, thereby opening another gap, or you can have the line stand together and have them move right or left to open up a certain gap (this mimics the offense opening a hole).

On the snap, have the back walk in the direction you tell him to, as this happens, the linebacker should be blitzing his assigned gap. If this gap is open, he hits the gap, breaks down once to the heels of the offensive linemen, and then shuffles to a position to make a tackle on the ball carrier. If his gap closes then the linebacker must see the running back’s flow and redirect “fitting” into the next available open gap in the direction of flow.

This is what some coaches’ call “reading on the run”. Once the linebacker sees the closed window, he should settle his feet and work flat down the line of scrimmage until he finds an opening. Once the opening is found, the linebacker then attacks the opening and breaks down in a good football position once he reaches the heels of the offensive line.

Linebacker Blitz Drills: Show and Go

Show and Go is a good linebacker blitz drill that teaches linebackers to be in a “performance alignment” when blitzing. A linebacker should not be at normal depth when blitzing, and I do not care for them standing in their assigned blitz gap either when the ball is snapped.

I like to have my linebackers anywhere from one to three yards off the football and on the move when the ball is snapped. This way the linebackers are on the move and more difficult for the offensive line and running backs to zero in on and block.

In the Show and Go linebackers drill, the coach can set up a dummy offensive line (for alignment and gap purposes) and then uses himself or a scout team member to initiate a snap count. The count is not known by the linebackers, however there is a ball and movement involved (much as one would train defensive linemen to react to the movement of the football rather than the quarterback’s cadence). The linebackers should move up and back, and even a gap over from where they are to blitz.

What I teach here is recognition of the center and quarterback the entire time. I don’t want my linebackers surprised by the snap of the ball. Have the quarterback vary the cadence so that you can go with quick first sound cadences, as well as long cadences intended to draw the defense offside’s.

Key coaching points in the Show and Go drill are to always have good body lean and be at or near a good football position when moving. The idea here is if the offense snaps the ball when you are moving back, you can still attack the line of scrimmage with some momentum and not be blown back as if the player was on his heels. The eyes are also key elements of coaching your linebackers.

They must see the quarterback and center, see the snap and then immediately get their eyes to their gap and into the backfield. The eyes take a while to train, but are essential in the development of a good blitzing linebacker.

Linebacker Blitz Drills: Show and Bail

For those that use a “show” or “bail” scheme in their defense, this is a good linebacker drill to teach how to get back into the proper position prior to the snap to play their normal defensive assignment.

This linebacker drill is set up exactly like the Show and Go drill, and run exactly the same way. The linebackers are to be back within one yard of their base alignment when the ball is snapped. On the snap the linebackers are to read the quarterback who will either drop back, or go down the line of scrimmage one way or the other as determined by the coach.

This drill teaches the linebacker to get back to his normal alignment, and then react to his keys once the ball is snapped. Both Show and Go and Show and Bail are easy linebacker drills that can be done in a pre-practice setting, or simply in shorts and helmets.

Linebacker Blitz Drills: Blitzing off the Edge

The off the edge drill is a great one-on-one pass rush drill for edge rushers who typically rush the passer from a stand up position. You can simply add these players to one-on-one pass rush drills with the offensive and defensive linemen or set up a drill for these players all by themselves. No matter which you do, you should work on the proper technique in rushing the passer from the upright position.

Lineback Edge Rush Drill

Edge Rush Drill

Linebacker Blitz Drills

Edge Rush vs Base block

Some good coaching points are for the player to have good body lean as he takes off from his initial stance. The idea here is to not be out of control. Edge rushers usually are contain players, and in some cases can be the force player in some blitz schemes so it is imperative that this player not be out of control.

The rusher should read the near hip of the defender he is aligned over and on the first step, be able to tell what kind of play is coming at him, and how to react to it. Being and edge rusher means plays can happen very quickly, and if not properly coached, the edge rusher can get “sucked inside” and outflanked by the offense.

If you choose to set the drill up using just defensive players, have one player represent the offensive player and the other is the edge rusher. Have the offensive player either block inside or out, or pass set. The rusher has to react by getting off the ball, reading the hip and making the proper reaction. If the hip goes down inside, the player will settle his feet and squeeze looking to force some type of trap scheme back to the inside.

If the hip attacks outward, the rusher will engage the hip and fight pressure with pressure, keeping the outside arm free and playing the spill by the inside rushers. If the near hip of the offensive player settles in pass protection the rusher will continue to work up field in an attempt to collapse the pocket.

Linebacker Edge Rusher Drill

I teach my edge rushers one of three pass rush moves based on their ability. I teach these moves in the following order:

      1. Bull Rush
      2. Rip
      3. Swim

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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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