Making A Great Linebacker, Part 1: Teaching The Eyes

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By Jacquis McCray Jr., Defensive Line Coach, Salisbury University

There are four words that come to mind when I think about great linebackers: eyes, feet, hands and nish. These four words should be emphasized every day in practice. Part one of this series focuses on the linebacker’s eyes.

Training The Eyes

All linebackers must train their eyes to read their keys on every play so that when the ball is snapped, they are able to dissect the play and react to what they see. Reading their keys is the most important thing that linebackers must learn how to do.

The better you are at reading your keys, the faster you will be because now you have the ability to recognize what play the offense is trying to run.

Here at Salisbury, we tell our defensive players’ everyday that they must train their eyes. Your players must be able to identify what is going on in front of them.

During my drill time, I rarely have my players reacting or moving to the sound of a whistle. I will always try to have some type of key in front of my linebackers to let them know when they need to move and how they need to move. All throughout practice, I want my linebackers to practice reacting to what they will see during the game.

In our odd stack defense, we have three inside linebackers: a middle linebacker (Mike), a strong-side linebacker (Sam) and a weak-side linebacker (Will). Each of these linebackers has a triangle key that they must read on every play. They are taught to read the offensive line to their near back.

Our Mike linebackers are taught to read the left guard, the center, the right guard and the deepest back. Our Sam and Will linebackers are taught to read the tight end (if there is one), tackle, guard and the near back.

With the offensive guards being uncovered a majority of the time, linebackers should be able to get a quick read from the guards. When I review practices and games, I do not want to see my linebackers taking a step forward when the offense is passing the ball. If the linebacker is reading their key, they should see the guard pass set. From there they should trust what they see and drop into pass coverage.

Part two of this series will focus on the importance of great hands play for linebackers. Stay tuned! We Go Big!

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