Making A Great Linebacker, Part 3: Training The Hands

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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 finish. These four words should be emphasized every day in practice. Part one of this series focuses on the linebacker’s eyes.

Training The Hands

Since linebackers are involved with every aspect of the game, they must be great with their hands. Linebackers must be able to use their hands to get off blocks, destroy blocks and tackle the ball carrier. Throughout the course of a game, they may have to squeeze a base block, shock and separate a base block, rip though a reach block, push and pull a reach block, and/or sprawl on a cut block.

Even when blitzing and/or pass rushing, linebackers must be able to bull rush, use a swim move, rip, or club an offensive player.

When the offense comes to the line of scrimmage, linebackers need to understand that there may be someone responsible for blocking them on every play. It is their job to use their hands and not get blocked by that offensive player.

As a collegiate coach, you cannot control what players were taught in high school. I initially tell my linebackers that they cannot allow the offensive players to get engaged and locked up with them.

A majority of the time, the offensive player will be bigger than the linebacker, but not faster. In order to have a chance at defeating a block, linebackers must use their speed to their advantage. I tell my linebackers that if they are the first to strike, they will be the first to win. I teach a shock-and-separate technique. I want my linebackers to strike the offensive player with their hands.

With the linebackers already being low in their stance and 5 yards off the ball, the strike should come with some speed and momentum behind it. Linebackers should be aiming for the breastplate of the shoulder pads. The strike should shock the offensive player. After the shock has been made, the linebacker should then extend his arms to create separation. Once that separation has been created, the linebacker now has the ability to push the offensive player back in the play, control his gap with the offensive player, and/or get off the offensive player to make a tackle on the ball carrier.

I believe that there is a progression that you must teach when teaching linebackers how to get off blocks and/or defeat blocks. The five-man sled is great for teaching linebackers how to shoot their hands to create that shock and how to extend their arms to create that separation.

When I first teach the shock-and-separate technique, I put a linebacker on every bag of the sled with their facemask on the facemask that is drawn on the sled. If your sled does not have anything on it, have your players get in their linebackers stance with their facemask touching the sled.

I will stand on the sled, somewhere where all of the linebackers can see me. On my movement they will shoot their hands, strike the sled with their elbows in, thumbs up, and extend their arms to create separation from the bag. Once your players have created separation, make sure that their feet are still under them. Players should not be lunging at the bag; their feet should be under them at all times.

Once my linebackers have learned how to shock and separate the bag with their facemask on it, I will move them back 5 yards and have them do the same thing, except this time they will have a running start. When I move them back 5 yards, I will only use three linebackers. This is done very fast; they will sprint downhill, reset and sprint downhill to the left, then reset and sprint downhill to the right. After three reps, they will sprint out either to the left side or the right side of the sled.

Before the players start their three reps, I will tell them which direction I want them to exit the sled.

Part four of this series will focus on the importance of finishing for linebackers. Stay tuned! We Go Big!

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