When linebackers roamed the gridiron in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, they hunted running backs from sideline to sideline with a win-at-all-costs attitude and the temperament of men in a controlled rage. They had a high level of intensity, with explosive collision-tackling skills and a fierce desire to hit with the eyes.
While the athletes who play the game today are bigger, stronger and faster, the mindset has not changed. Concussions, however, have forced the NFL commissioner to make rule changes. Players are no longer able to hit a defenseless receiver or lead with the crown of their helmet (top of head with eyes down). Nevertheless, the way linebackers are used today – in multiple variations, schemes and alignments – definitely has changed.
Defensive coordinators are like mad scientists – they go into their laboratories (film room) and break down film and strategic game-planning on how to defeat offenses. The latest concoction: an antidote for the read option and how to slow down Blue Players (playmakers and difference-makers) each and every week. Today’s linebackers are the most versatile players not only on defense, but on the entire football field. With offenses creating a chess match with multiple receiver formations and blitzing linebackers from a variety of alignments, the act of applying pressure on the quarterback from the edge rush and dropping into space in coverage of a TEA (athletic tight end), RB (running backs) or FBA (athletic fullback) has created a new-age defender.
There are several types of linebackers used in today’s game of football. Some are standard, like the ILB (inside linebacker) and OLB (outside linebacker) in the 4-3 defense. In the 3-4 defense there are two inside linebackers, one aligned to the strength – or strong side of the offensive formation – and the other weak. Also, the two outside linebackers are called RLB (rush linebackers). These players must defend the edge, rush the passer and drop into coverage.
In sub packages (nickel or dime) with multiple defensive backs against passing situations (second and third downs), a hybrid linebacker called a DLB (dime linebacker) is an extremely athletic performer. He possesses safety attributes to cover man (with awareness in zone) and can rush the passer with the mindset of a linebacker: to seek and destroy with very good lateral chase and pursuit. In short, he is a fierce tackler in tight and open space.
Character: Leader in the locker room, community involvement, off-field issues (arrest, drugs, assaulting women, guns, multiple campus tickets, etc.).
Football Intelligence: Student of the game, film study, playbook memorization, ability to process and regurgitate information with recall.
Leadership: Natural-born leader, vocal, quiet, leads by example, traffic controller in the secondary.
Competitiveness: A win-at-all-costs attitude, with a high level of intensity. Plays with passion on every play, at his best under adverse and pressure situations, pride. He is confident in himself and his teammates have confidence in him.
Toughness: A nasty inline defender to consistently deliver under pressure and refuses to be defeated. His ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.
Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations.
Athletic Skill Set
Instincts: Key and diagnose; instinctive reactions; awareness of ball and receivers, ball skills with track and intercept production.
Communicator: Hand signals, vocal communication.
Speed: Quick feet; turn and burst deep, quicker than fast, build up acceleration, recovery speed.
Feet: Lateral movement, quickness, COD (change of direction).
Pedal: Traditional over toe technique, open bale, foot quickness/speed; smooth hip transition; upright in movement, smooth, stiffness, struggles in/out of transition; COD with burst.
Plant/Burst: Body control and balance in plant; transition smooth without hesitation; click and drive, initial burst to close on ball and receiver in space.
Pursuit: Relentless chase and pursuit with production, motor runs hot, lazy backside, jogger.
Man/Zone Coverage Skills: Instinctive and physical man coverage skills vs. RB (running backs), TEA (athletic tight ends), FBA (athletic fullbacks), coverage in seam, zone awareness of receivers entering and exiting zone sectors, closing quickness; range; jumping ability; reaction quickness; catch-up speed, acceleration, overall quickness; proper angles, lean and locate on mirror, angles, natural in drops, accelerate out of turns, read progression, discipline, hip turns, route recognition, depth, plant and close, click and drive.
Ball Skills: Track, compete for balls at highest peak, ball hawk.
Sub-Package: Nickel and dime linebackers.
Receiving skills: Soft or hard, sure.
Blitz 2-point/3-point stance: Natural and instinctive movement, body balance and control, elusiveness on the move, skinny in hole or off edge, relentless effort, COD (change of direction).
Against the Run: Downhill player with force, contain and attack LOS (line of scrimmage), read reaction quickness; explosive force, strong tackling skills; willingness; soft, play off blockers; toughness; production.
Lateral Movement: First-step quickness, slide and avoid, clear feet, work over and around trash, redirect.
Leverage: Knee bend and strike, short area explosion, ability to dominate blockers, secure, shoulders square, angle tackler, wrap, seek and destroy, inside and out, hard strike.
Outside Run: Take on shed, defeat blockers on the move, protect legs.
Temperament: Attitude, controlled chaos, mad man, passionate fever.
Take on: Butt and press, shed on the move, slip, dodge, run around blockers, sluggish, gets walled and sealed.
Tackling: Arrows through snow, tackle with authority, accelerate through contact, ankle flex, short stride with strike, effective tight/open space, strong tackling skills, breakdown sink hips and strike, wrap up; explosive; collision with wrap, chop tackler, big hitter; drag down arm tackler, run through, explosion with face, hits with eyes.
Strong UOH (use of hands): Plays with arms, grab and steer, stab and punch, double arm bar, single arm bar, press and release, stack at POA (point of attack), hand combat, slap, flipper.
Football Instincts: High football IQ, football instincts, awareness, read reaction quickness on the move, blocking recognition of pulling and trapping offensive linemen, locate and track ball in box, nose for making plays inside box, in season/out season study habits, film work and notes.
Strength: Functional strength and explosion, maintain leverage
Against the run: Defeat blocks neutralize and explode into blocker; split and defeat double team; shed blockers on the move; stack and control POA; press off, base strength with strong anchor, dodge, slip and avoid.
Pursuit/Range: Intensity; relentless; flatten down LOS, sacrifices body diving second effort; chase with short area burst and speed to finish.
Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position and the ability to play hurt.
Physicality: Soft, Collision player, thumper, violent, intimidator to evoke fear in offensive opponents.
Confidence: Unflappable confidence, short memory, swagger.
Special Teams: Heart and soul of coverage units, hair on fire, lazy, non-interested, ability to block punts and PATD/FG, production.
Dion Jordan OLB Oregon 6’6-248 33 7/8 10 Moved from TE to OLB two years ago. This player is the prototypical 3-4 rush OLB. An aggressive football player with excellent athletic skill set, outstanding frame with length; will need strength and girth, but when you turn on the tape, he plays fast and is fun to evaluate. Tall player with natural knee bend, burst and acceleration; COD (change of direction) is very smooth in movement. Edge player with natural pass rush skills, explosive first-step quickness. Double arm bar punch creates separation; can attack and bull rush tackles or flip hips and burst to defeat upfield shoulder. Will need to develop hand combat; shows flashes, but will need pull and jerk, tilt/toss and hand slap techniques on a more consistent basis. Good eyes and FBI (football instincts) with lateral chase and pursuit to second and third levels; motor runs fast to accompany collision tackling skills and wrap production. A second-effort player who hunts until the whistle and will launch with long frame to capture ball carrier in movement with diving effort. Stacking at POA (point of attack) is adequate for the next level, but he will battle to defeat blockers. Weight room development will help vs. the run. I really like this player’s competitiveness, toughness and willingness to compete each and every play. Aligned in multiple spots in games viewed. Good coverage skills vs. tight end in man coverage and awareness in zone drops. This player has huge upside. First-round talent, top-10 pick.
Jarvis Jones OLB Georgia 6’2-245 33 9 1/8 A versatile outside linebacker built for either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. Outstanding pass rush skills make for a disruptive edge player with very good awareness and FBI (football instincts). An extremely explosive football player, he exudes a desire and passion for the game on each and every play. Jones has great size, length and much athletic skill – despite what the combine numbers say. Check out his DNA (film) – he has the wherewithal to get to the ball carrier or quarterback. Plays faster than timed speed, relentlessly motoring to second and third levels with hustle and a second effort to hunt until the whistle. Good eyes, and ability to key and diagnose on the move; can stick foot in the ground and COD (change direction) with short-area burst and buildup acceleration. Very good leverage player to stack POA (point of attack) with strong UOH (use of hands), punching breast plate with double and single arm bar bull rush; can club, then tilt, offensive tackles and create separation with burst off collision. Good first-step quickness with natural pass rush skills to beat upfield shoulder and close on quarterback drop zone immediately, speaking to short-area burst. Is mentally and physically equipped to play 3-4 ROLB (rush outside linebacker) or 4-3 SOLB (strong outside linebacker). Can drop into coverage in zone, but will be limited in man coverage due to overall movement and speed in transition. An explosive, physical, collision run-through tackler who inflicts pain on both quarterbacks and running backs in tight or open space. Natural blitz skills with timing and anticipation on stunts inside. Sources say he is a very good team leader and captain. The diagnosis of spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord at the C-4 disc) is a concern for many teams. If this player falls because of the medical situation, some team will land a gem. First-round talent, top-15 pick.
Manti Te’o ILB Notre Dame 6’1-241 32 1/2 9 1/2 Before the fake girlfriend issues and the speed issues that cropped up at the combine (which greatly improved at the Notre Dame Pro Day a few weeks ago) Te’o was considered a very good football player – and he still is. When I evaluated the combine positional drill work, I saw the same movement skills and short-area burst and acceleration that I did on tape. While the national championship game is a blemish on the radar screen, his DNA (film) and overall production speaks for itself. Good athlete with size and short-area quickness. Very good FBI (football instincts), read reaction quickness and awareness in space of screens and route recognition. Good eyes to key and diagnose, with a nose for the ball within the box; can sift through traffic and play downhill with TFL (tackle for loss) production. Reads offensive line scheme well (pulling guards). Good at POA (point of attack) to stuff OGs or lead blockers, and can play downhill effectively. Does allow pad level to rise and was frequently walled off; slow to shed. Will need better UOH (use of hands) technique to shed and disengage faster. Good lateral chase and pursuit. Is a natural space player, fluid in drops, with great awareness of both ball and receiver; body balance and control results in interception production. A collision, chase down lateral tackler with good wrap-up in tight and open space. He is always around the ball and possesses soft hands with diving effort. This is the same player whom millions of people were championing for the Heisman. Talented enough to play either weak or strong OLB spots at the next level. First-round talent, first-round pick.
*Damontre Moore OLB Texas A&M 6’4-250 34 3/4 10 1/4 This player has an exceptional frame and length with long levers that complement various positional attributes. Natural pass rush skills with body balance and control to blow past upfield shoulder – with burst to quarterback arch. Good lateral chase and pursuit, and hunts on the move with explosive snap and strike; collision-tackling skills dictate that he hits with his eyes, wraps up well and finishes nasty. Is extremely competitive with very good temperament to knock teammates out of the way while hunting and pursuing ball carrier in tight or open space. Excellent TFL (tackle for loss) production, and he plays downhill now. Strong and violent UOH (use of hands) to tilt tackles with double arm bar separation; attacks breast plate, pulls and jerks outside cloth with strong hand combat and short-area burst after shed. Is very combative at POA (point of attack) vs. the run. His DNA (tape) showed a player who is productive but not sudden, despite some short-area quickness and natural movement skills to hunt with buildup acceleration and better playing speed than the timed speed result (4.95) at the combine. Moore improved his numbers across the board there, including his bench press and shuttles. A scheme fit for either ROLB (rush) in a 3-4 defense or strong OLB in a 4-3 front who is a two-down monster vs. the run and gives way to nickel cornerback in the sub packages. First-round talent, bottom first/early second-round pick.
*Barkevious Mingo OLB Louisiana State 6’4-241 33 3/4 9 5/8 A ball of energy, he boasts great length. Girth potential, however, is limited because of a tight waist. Excellent athlete with burst, acceleration and a combination of quickness and speed in his DNA (film) that showed up in his drill work at the combine. An upright, flexible edge rusher with fluid movement and bend; gear change goes without saying. A playmaker off the edge with explosive get-off, he flashed natural pass-rush skills. Inconsistent to beat upfield shoulder and flip hips, though. Despite the pressure that he brings, plays with his shoulders and lacks UOH (use of hands) combat technique in his game. A high percentage of production comes from unblocked success. Chase and pursuit and second effort are outstanding. Yet he needs to be clean; struggles to create through technique, irrespective of huge upside. FBI (football instincts) are spotty, but recognizes inline pulling linemen (OG), dipping shoulder and jumping on ground when taking on blocker in a strange choice of technique. Will need better temperament at POA (point of attack) to stack and defeat; is competitive, but lacks toughness and is not a nasty player in the trenches. Flashed inside stunt production. Can flatten down LOS (line of scrimmage) and will launch himself with production as an angle or chase down tackler. Has the awareness and athletic ability to peel off pass rush and pick up running back in flat in man coverage. Good zone awareness in drops. Needs to develop girth, strength and explosion through weight room development. Has aligned in a two- and three-point stance. Best equipped to fill position as a 3-4 rush OLB. Better athlete than a football player at this time, though defensive coordinators and position coaches will pound the table to draft this physical marvel. Second-round talent/late first-round pick because of athletic skill set and upside.
Others to Watch
Arthur Brown OLB Kansas State
Alec Ogletree OLB Georgia
Steve Beauhamais OLB/ILB Rutgers
Jonathan Bostic OLB Florida
Gerald Hodges OLB Penn State
Jayson DiManche OLB Southern Illinois
Zaviar Gooden OLB Missouri
Mike Minter ILB Louisiana State
Kevin Reddick ILB North Carolina
Kiko Alonso ILB Oregon