All opponents should fear the walls of a linebacker’s defense – and these are the drills that will make you a formidable defender prepared to halt any hungry offense.
To become an impenetrable force, a linebacker must master a set of skills more varied than anyone else on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers must read, cover and react. To reach the top of his game, a linebacker has to practice.
These five linebackers drills and workouts that will help you perfect your skills.
It may seem basic, but a linebacker’s stance is where the playmaking ability begins on the each down. The feet should be shoulder width apart, with the knees bent, back straight, weight on the balls on your feet and head up – proper linebacker stance is an active stance. It takes effort and practice to commit it to muscle memory. It’s from this stance that LBs make their first move – always a quick half-step towards the direction of the action. To work on your stance, practice the quarter eagle linebacker drill – coach optional, sweat required. It’s important that you learn how to maintain proper stance even when fatigue hits in the fourth quarter.
Shedding and Scraping
Tackling in the open field is a unique challenge, but destroying a blocker and stopping a ballcarrier in his tracks demands a different set of skills. To hone those skills, practice shedding and scraping. When the linebacker drill begins, the ballcarrier will rush up behind the blocker and make a break towards the outside. Engage the blocker and overcome him, finding the ballcarier and driving him towards the sideline. Shedding blocks is a basic skill that must be perfected by linebackers in all defensive schemes. Only by shedding a blocker, often a player much taller than an LB, can a defensive player find the ball and make a move on it. A smart move, preferably. After shedding a block be careful that you don’t over-pursue a ballcarrier. They’re ballcarriers for a reason: they’ve got speed and jukes. Shed and find a position that will get your teammates to help you out.
Pass-drop and Hip Rotation
Coverage training isn’t just for defensive backs. As a game goes on, it becomes increasingly essential that linebackers drop back and cover. That’s why the pass drop and hip rotation drill, a basic two-person linebacker workout that tests an LBs responsiveness and lateral agility, is so important. To run the drill, line up opposite a QB or coach holding a ball and calling the shots. When he hikes the ball, backpedal 5 yards, then sprint diagonal whichever way the ballholder signals, continuing to drop back downfield at an angle as if in coverage on a crossing or out route. The ballholder calls 4 alternating directions (left, right, left, right or right, left, right, left), before directing the player to sprint towards the ball, at which point the QB will rifle it right at him. LBs don’t have to have the best hands on the team, but you’ll be all that more valuable if you’ve got a pick six in you.
Rules prohibit players at most levels from organized full-contact in the offseason. Not only that, but if you were to go full-contact all the time, you’d rarely be healthy enough to go all-in on gameday. The good news is you don’t have to hit hard to work on tackling. There are several ways to improve form without knocking skulls or laying your teammate on his back. Tackling isn’t just about wrapping up and driving hips – it’s about getting into position to win a one-on-one battle in the open field. For a linebacker, winning isn’t laying out an opponent – it’s impeding his progress. That’s what this open field tackling drill is all about: making a read, getting to a spot, and preventing a ballcarrier from going where he wants to go. Practice to up your instincts and ability to read a ballcarrier’s trajectory, and on gameday you’ll be shooting gaps and achieving the tackles for loss that make the highlight reel.
The Oklahoma Drill
The Oklahoma drill is football at its most essential. All it takes is a ballcarrier, a blocker and a tackler. If you’re a linebacker, that tackler is you, and you better win your matchup. The Oklahoma drill separates the finesse-centric players from the physically-focused players. It brings out the players who are really ready to hit, and it sets the tone for the season to come. All the skills developed in the previous drills come into play in the Oklahoma drill, which is why its a staple of high school and college programs. If you can’t get 11 on 11, referees and a scoreboard, the Oklahoma drill might be the best approximation of the game.