Linebacker is a very challenging position to play.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the fact that the position requires players to be hybrid defenders -- with responsibilities of rushing the quarterback, making tackles to stop the run game, and covering receivers in the passing game.
Linebackers are considered some of the toughest and most athletic players on a defense.
They’re often involved in high-impact plays at high rates of speed while players on both offense and defense are on the move.
Unlike some other positions on defense, linebackers also must learn to read plays effectively.
Whether a linebacker is successful or not at his job has a lot to do with how well (and how quickly) he can read whether a play is a run or pass.
That's because a linebacker often has two separate responsibilities on every play -- one for if the play is a run and one for if the play is a pass.
That's why linebackers must not only learn drills that’ll help them improve their speed, strength, and tackling ability, but also their ability to read plays and react quickly.
More advanced linebacker drills are, as a result, often focused on combining multiple skills into one drill -- since that's what will be asked of linebackers on every play.
Here are five linebacker drills that all coaches should teach their linebackers to help them improve their speed, reads, and tackling.
Linebackers will be running on angles a lot of the time as they’re pursuing ball carriers, quarterbacks, and receivers.
This drill will help teach them how to do this while cutting from one side to the next.
You don't need anything to set up this drill except for the linebackers and a coach with a football.
The coach will stand about 20-30 yards away from the linebacker.
The linebacker should start in the middle of two five-yard line markers facing one of the sidelines.
The coach will signal the start of the drill by simulating the snap of the football.
When the drill starts, the player will first take a freeze step before running at a 45-degree angle toward the left yard marker.
He needs to use crossover steps to do this, and he needs to keep his eyes on the football the entire time he’s running.
When the player hits the yard marker, he’ll need to plant his outside foot, then open his hips so that he can angle to the other yard marker.
He'll continue repeating this back and forth between the yard markers at a 45-degree angle using crossover steps.
The coach will signal the end of the drill by pulling the ball straight back toward his head.
This will force the linebacker to focus on keeping his eyes on the ball the whole time.
When the coach does this, the linebacker needs to stop his angled running, square up to the coach, and sprint forward five yards.
Linebackers will need to be able to backpedal effectively in order to get depth in anticipation of a pass player.
This will allow them to get the depth they need no matter whether the defense will be running zone coverage or man-to-man.
In addition, linebackers need to be able to shuffle from side to side as they’re tracking the play as it develops.
This linebacker drill will help them work on both of these skills.
To start this drill, you'll need five bags, which you should place in about two yards apart from each other in a straight line.
The coach will position himself in front of the middle bag.
The linebacker will start at the front and to the left of the first bag in a two-point stance, just as he would at the start of a play in a game.
The coach will signify the start of the drill by bringing the ball up to simulate a snap.
When this happens, the linebacker will first take his freeze step and then backpedal behind the first bag.
When he gets there, the player needs to sink his hips and shuffle to his left around the back of the first bag.
Once he's around that first bag, he needs to plant his feet and sprint straight ahead in between the first and second bags.
When he gets to the front of the bags, he needs to plant again and shuffle to his left in front of the second bag.
He'll then backpedal between the second and third bags before repeating this entire process until he sprints up past the last bag in the row.
The entire time the linebacker is going through this drill, he needs to keep his shoulders square and faced forward, with his eyes on the coach the entire time.
When he shuffles, he needs to make sure he's not crossing his feet over, too.
You should have linebackers work on this drill going to their left and to their right as well.
On running plays, offensive linemen will be working to get downfield and blocking linebackers to open holes up for ball carriers to run through.
Linebackers will need to take on and then shed these blocks so that they can pursue the ball carrier and make a tackle.
This drill will help linebackers work on this skill.
For this drill, you'll need two coaches who will each have a bag, as well as a coach who will serve as the quarterback.
The linebacker will start the drill lined up about five yards back from the coach serving as the offensive lineman.
The other coach with a bag will be acting as a running back, and he'll line up about two yards back from the "offensive lineman" on a 45-degree angle.
The coach serving as the quarterback will have a football in his hand and will line up about five yards directly behind the offensive lineman.
The quarterback will signal the start of the drill by pulling the ball back to simulate a snap.
The linebacker must first take his freeze step before stepping forward to take on the block from the offensive lineman.
He must engage in this block, then quickly shed it and angle over toward the running back to make the tackle.
Once the linebacker has mastered this first version of the drill, you can make it more difficult by putting one of your offensive linemen on the field instead of a coach with a bag.
This will force the linebacker to shed an actual block before getting to the coach acting as the running back.
A final more advanced version of this drill would include substituting an actual running back for the other coach.
The linebacker will then be forced to simulate a tackle on the running back, who will be running with the ball and making cuts.
Another challenging part about playing linebacker is the fact that they’ll have to make open-field solo tackles a lot.
Mastering the skill of tackling is essential for linebackers.
If they miss these open-field tackles, then the ball carrier will have plenty of room to run behind them and gain loads of yards.
This drill will have linebackers work on their open-field tackling skills.
To set up this drill, you'll need three cones that you'll set up about one yard apart from each other.
The linebacker will line up about five yards back from the last cone, while a running back with a ball will do the same on the other side of the cones.
The coach will start the drill by blowing the whistle.
When he does so, the running back will sprint straight ahead toward the cone on his side, and then break to either the right or the left of the cones at the last minute.
The linebacker will take his freeze step, then similarly sprint straight ahead toward the cone on his side.
The linebacker will need to read which side the running back is breaking to, then planting his foot and angling toward the running back to make a simulated tackle.
It’ll be very important for the linebacker to keep his head up and his shoulders square while he's sprinting forward, while not trying to guess which side the running back will be breaking to.
When you’re first introducing this drill, you should tell the running back that he should only make that first cut near the first cone and then sprint on an angle past the cones.
He shouldn't make any more moves to try to avoid the linebacker's tackle.
A more advanced version of this drill can allow the running back to make other juke moves once he gets beyond the cone to further avoid the linebacker's tackle.
This drill is similar to the open field tackling drill, but it'll specifically work on making sure linebackers stay square to the ball carrier.
This is a particularly effective drill if your linebackers are overcommitting and allowing runners to make moves to get by them.
You'll need four cones to set up the boundaries of this drill. You'll set up two cones roughly 10 yards directly opposite each other.
The other two cones you'll set up on the yard line up between those two cones, spread out about 10 yards apart from each other.
In essence, you'll be forming a diamond with the four cones.
A running back will line up behind one of the cones with a ball in his hand, and a linebacker will line up behind the other cone opposite.
The coach will blow a whistle to start the drill.
The ball carrier will start by running hard on an angle, and the linebacker will pursue him on a direct line as well.
The running back will have the freedom to move in any direction he wants after he starts, using whatever juke moves he wants to try to avoid the tackle from the linebacker.
The linebacker will need to shuffle, shift, and angle himself appropriately so that he can adjust and make the tackle.
This drill is best if it's a non-contact drill.
In other words, you don't want the linebacker to worry so much about making the physical tackle; this drill is about teaching not to over-pursue.
Linebackers have a lot of responsibilities that other positions don't have.
They need to shed blockers to get to ball carriers to make tackles.
They need to backpedal, shuffle from side to side, and then angle to get to ball carriers -- all in the same play.
They also need to keep their eyes in the backfield while preparing to react as they read whether a play is a pass or run.
Because of this, linebacker drills will be a little different than ones that coaches use for other positions.
The five listed above are a great start to teach linebackers the basics of the position.
If you find that your linebackers need more work in certain areas, you can tweak or add onto these drills to refine their skills further.