A linebacker in football is a key defensive position known for its versatility and critical role in both stopping the run and defending against the pass. Just like most, if not all positions in football, it demands a unique combination of size, strength, speed, and intelligence.
Position and Responsibilities
- Run Defense: Linebackers are crucial in stopping the running game. They read the offensive linemen’s movement and the backfield’s formation to quickly identify the direction of the play. Upon recognizing a run, they must rapidly close gaps, engage blockers, and tackle the ball carrier.
- Pass Defense: In passing situations, linebackers may be tasked with covering tight ends, running backs, or even wide receivers. They also play a vital role in zone coverage, guarding specific areas of the field against short to intermediate passes.
- Blitzing: Linebackers often blitz, which means they rush through the offensive line to pressure or sack the quarterback. This requires quick decision-making and explosive speed to exploit gaps in the offensive line.
Types of Linebackers
- Middle Linebacker (MLB): Also known as the “Mike” linebacker, the MLB is often considered the quarterback of the defense. They are typically responsible for calling plays and adjustments based on the offense’s formation. The MLB must excel in both run defense and pass coverage.
- Outside Linebackers (OLB): Located on the edges of the defensive formation, OLBs are further categorized as “Strongside” (Sam) or “Weakside” (Will). The Strongside linebacker lines up on the side of the field where the offense has more players, often facing tight ends, requiring them to be stronger and more physical. The Weakside linebacker, being on the less crowded side, often has more freedom to pursue the play and needs to be faster and more agile.
Physical and Mental Attributes
- Physicality: They must have the strength to engage with larger offensive linemen and the power to tackle effectively.
- Speed and Agility: Quickness is essential for covering receivers, closing in on running backs, and blitzing the quarterback.
- Football Intelligence: Understanding offensive schemes and quickly diagnosing plays is critical.
- Leadership: As many linebackers call defensive plays, leadership and communication skills are vital.
Best Linebackers Of All Time
Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants, 1981-1993)
Often considered the greatest linebacker in NFL history. Taylor revolutionized the outside linebacker position with his speed and power. He was a 10-time Pro Bowler, a two-time Super Bowl champion, and won the NFL MVP in 1986, a rare feat for a defensive player.
Dick Butkus (Chicago Bears, 1965-1973)
Known for his ferocity and intimidating style of play, Butkus was a force in the middle linebacker position. Despite playing on mostly poor teams, his individual excellence was undeniable. Having earned eight Pro Bowl selections and becoming an iconic figure in Chicago sports.
Ray Lewis (Baltimore Ravens, 1996-2012)
Lewis was the heart and soul of the Ravens’ defense for 17 seasons. A two-time Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP. Lewis was known for his leadership, intense play, and ability to read and disrupt offenses.
Jack Lambert (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-1984)
A key member of the legendary “Steel Curtain” defense. Lambert helped lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles. His toughness and aggressive play in the middle linebacker position made him a feared and respected opponent.
Derrick Thomas (Kansas City Chiefs, 1989-1999)
Thomas was an exceptional pass rusher, holding the record for most sacks in a single game. His speed and agility made him a constant threat to opposing quarterbacks.
Junior Seau (San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, 1990-2009)
Seau’s versatility and endurance were remarkable. And it earned him 12 Pro Bowl selections over his 20-year career. He was known for his passionate play and ability to make plays all over the field.
Mike Singletary (Chicago Bears, 1981-1992)
Singletary was the heart of the Bears’ dominant defense in the 1980s. Including the 1985 Super Bowl-winning team. Known as “Samurai Mike,” his intensity and leadership were unparalleled.
Brian Urlacher (Chicago Bears, 2000-2012)
Urlacher redefined the middle linebacker position with his unique blend of size, speed, and coverage ability. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.