When you think of the greatest linebackers you’ve ever seen, it’s not all big hits, interceptions and fumbles that make them so great –
although they’re great for the highlight reel. What makes a great linebacker, is his ability to move East and West, and combine that with the ability to move North and South. Pursuit is a skill, and something that it takes time and practice to perfect. Here are a couple of non-contact drills I like to put my linebackers through on a daily basis.
Here we’re teaching our players how to maintain leverage, forcing the runner to the outside. Set up four cones in a diamond shape, with a line of defenders on one end and ball carriers on the other. The runner will make one move, and sprint for the outside cone, trying to beat the defender there. The goal for the defender is to tap the hip with the hand, just to show to the coach they were close enough to tackle.
The key for the defender here is to stay on the runner’s inside hip, making sure not to overpursue to the outside, giving up the cut back lane. Remember, if your heads up, the runner can make two decisions: inside or outside. If you take away the inside, there’s only one place the runner can go: the boundary.
Once your players are starting to feel pretty comfortable with the Leverage drill, were going to make it a little bit more difficult. Here we take a look at how to defend a runner who begins to run at the boundary, and attempts to cutback to the inside to break free.
Widen up the cones to give the players more room to run. Now the drill is basically the same, but the offensive player is free to cut back whenever they feel. The key for the defender here is to stay focused on the inside hip and shoulder, and as soon as the cutback happens, run upfield. It’s a loss for the defense if the runner can bet back inside, even if they still get the tap.
If the defender floats, and hesitates to sprint upfield, they will get beat. Commit and run upfield and you’ll maintain your inside leverage, and keep the sideline on your side.
And if you need some help with the actual physical act of tackling, make sure to check out these other great linebacker drills!