By Lou Tepper • Former Defensive Coordinator • University Of Buffalo
With over 40 years of collegiate football coaching experience, Lou Tepper knows a thing or two about developing linebackers. In his distinguished career, Tepper has coached 20 linebackers who went on to play in the NFL, including three Butkus Award winners.
The following are four linebacker (LB) drills found in Complete Linebacking that run as part of a larger drill progression series for linebacker development. The entire drill progression is detailed at length in the new book.
This drill combines an approach from either side with a live blocker. The athlete must not only react with the correct base, but also adjust to a moving target.
Align the linebackers in two columns facing the challenged LB. The coach directs traffic behind the player being drilled. The coach calls, “ready hit” and points to the player that is to block the LBB1 attacks while B3 responds with an approach to a left-footed base. Then B2 attacks and B3 responds with a right-footed base.
When attacked from the left column, the player sets his left-footed base and explodes his hips. He does the opposite when attacked from the right side. The coach can evaluate his base under pressure and his hip explosion.
A ball carrier is often added into this drill, and after four reps the LB can push off his plant foot and front-up the RB inside the column of blockers.
Machine-Gun DrillThis is a classic drill with great benefits. We use it to practice defending cut blocks. Usually the first blocker stays up and simulates an opponent’s prime block (that is, zone block guard). The subsequent blockers attempt to cut the LB while he works inside-to-out on the RB.
This diagram shows the Machine-Gun Drill with a right-footed base.
We stress to the LBs to put their hands on the cut blocker’s helmet and shoulder pad while running their feet. It’s all right to give ground to keep their feet.
Remember that with each block (reach or cut), the inside foot (the right foot shown in Diagram 2) is up on contact.
One-On-One DrillThis drill identifies LBs who can execute with a proper base in a competitive setting. It gives coaches a chance to evaluate inexperienced LBs’ progress under pressure.
We have adapted what is commonly called the “Oklahoma Drill” for LBs that play off the line of scrimmage. I never understood why coaches put their LBs on the nose of an offensive lineman during this drill when they never ask the LB to walk up that tight during a game situation.
B sets near-footed base. Focus should be on the near foot.
We confine the contact with two soft bags between which the ball carrier must run. Rather than center the lineman, we make it realistic and place the lineman to one side of the opening. Now the blocker must get movement or the LB can make the play with his free arm, as shown in Diagram 3.
Obviously, this drill severely tests the LB’s approach, base and hip explosion. It’s just like football. Those who make plays during this drill will probably make plays on game day.
Bull-In-The-Ring DrillMany coaches use this drill extensively. Although I believe it can be a solid teaching drill, I am drawn to it because of the emotion it creates through group dynamics. It is for this reason that I have used this drill only on game days. It is special to our players because we reserve it for that day when intensity runs highest.
B1 calls out B2 and sets with a left-footed base.
When I was at Virginia Tech, one of our starting LBs broke his nose before a game in this drill. The drill often is a distraction for our opponents because of the crisp hitting and intensity.
Circle the LBs and have one leader jump to the middle of the circle. He gets two hits and sheds, one with each foot. He controls the blocker by pointing to him and calling him out with, “You!”
The blocker comes hard and always high. The LB then calls out another teammate. Repeat until all players have had two live hits.
For more information or to order Lou Tepper’s Complete Linebacking, check out HumanKinetics.com. In 266-pages and 22 chapters of critical linebacker information, Complete Linebacking will serve as a team’s go-to resource for coaching LBs.