A linebacker (LB or backer) is a playing position in American football and Canadian football. Linebackers are members of the defensive team, and line up approximately three to five yards (4 m) behind the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive linemen, and therefore "back up the line". Linebackers generally align themselves before the ball is snapped by standing upright in a "two-point stance" (as opposed to the defensive linemen, who put one or two hands on the ground for a "three-point stance" or "four-point stance" before the ball is snapped).
The goal of the linebacker is to provide either extra run protection or extra pass protection based on the particular defensive play being executed. Another key play of the linebacker position is blitzing. A blitz occurs when a linebacker acts as an extra pass rusher running into any exposed gap. When a blitz is called by the defense, it is mainly to sack or hurry the opposing offense's quarterback.
Linebackers are often regarded as the most important position in defense, due to their versatility in providing hard hits on running plays or an additional layer of pass protection, when required. Similar to the "free safety" position, linebackers are required to use their judgment on every snap, to determine their role during that particular play.
Before the advent of the two-platoon system with separate units for offense and defense, the player who was the team's center on offense was often, though not always, the team's linebacker on defense. Hence today one usually sees four defensive linemen to the offense's five or more. Most sources claim coach Fielding H. Yost and center Germany Schulz of the University of Michigan invented the position. Schulz was Yost's first linebacker in 1904 when he stood up from his usual position on the line. Yost was horrified at first, but came to see the wisdom in Schulz's innovation. William Dunn of Penn St. was another Western linebacker soon after Schulz.
However, there are various historical claims tied to the linebacker position, including some before 1904. For example, Percy Given of Georgetown is another center with a claim to the title "first linebacker," supposedly standing up behind the line well before Schulz in a game against Navy in 1902. Despite Given, most sources have the first linebacker in the South as Frank Juhan of Sewanee.
In the East, Ernest Cozens of Penn was "one of the first of the roving centers," another, archaic term for the position, supposedly coined by Hank Ketcham of Yale. Walter E. Bachman of Lafayette was said to be "the developer of the "roving center" concept". Edgar Garbisch of Army was credited with developing the "roving center method" of playing defensive football in 1921.
The middle or inside linebacker (MLB or ILB), sometimes called the "Mike" or "Mack", is often referred to as the "quarterback of the defense". Often it is the middle linebacker who receives the defensive play calls from the sideline and relays that play to the rest of the team, and in the NFL he is usually the defensive player with the electronic sideline communicator. A jack-of-all-trades, the middle linebacker can be asked to blitz (though they often blitz less than the outside linebacker), cover, spy the quarterback, or even have a deep middle-of-the-field responsibility in the Tampa 2 defense. In standard defenses, middle linebackers commonly lead the team in tackles. The terms middle and inside linebacker are often used interchangeably; they are also used to distinguish between a single middle linebacker playing in a 4–3 defense, and two inside linebackers playing in a 3–4 defense. In a 3–4 defense, the larger, more run-stopping-oriented linebacker is usually still called "Mike", while the smaller, more pass protection/route coverage-oriented player is called "Will". "Mikes" usually line up towards the strong side or on the side the offense is more likely to run on (based on personnel matchups) while "Wills" may line up on the other side or even a little farther back between the defensive line and the secondary.
The outside linebacker (OLB), sometimes called the "Buck, Sam, and Rebel" is usually responsible for outside containment. This includes the strongside and weakside designations below. They are also responsible for blitzing the quarterback.
The strongside linebacker (SLB) is often nicknamed the "Sam" for purposes of calling a blitz. Since the strong side of the offensive team is the side on which the tight end lines up, or whichever side contains the most personnel, the strongside linebacker usually lines up across from the tight end. Often the strongside linebacker will be called upon to tackle the running back on a play, because the back will be following the tight end's block. He is most often the strongest linebacker; at the least he possesses the ability to withstand, shed, and fight off blocks from a tight end or fullback blocking the backside of a pass play. The linebacker should also have strong safety abilities in pass situation to cover the tight end in man on man situations. He should also have considerable quickness to read and get into coverage in zone situations. The strongside linebacker is also commonly known as the left outside linebacker (LOLB).
The weakside linebacker (WLB), or the "Will" in 4–3 Defense, sometimes called the backside linebacker, or "Buck", as well as other names like Jack or Bandit must be the fastest of the three, because he is often the one called into pass coverage. He is also usually chasing the play from the backside, so the ability to maneuver through traffic is a necessity for the Will. The Will usually aligns off the line of scrimmage at the same depth as Mike. Because of his position on the weakside, the Will does not often have to face large interior linemen one on one unless one is pulling. In coverage, the Will often covers the back that attacks his side of the field first in man coverage, while covering the weak flat in Texas Loop or hook/curl areas in zone coverage. The weakside linebacker is also commonly known as the right outside linebacker (ROLB).
The number of linebackers is dependent upon the formation called for in the play; formations can call for as few as none, or as many as seven. Most defensive schemes call for three or four, and they are generally named for the number of linemen, followed by the number of linebackers (with the 46 defense being an exception). For example, the 4–3 defense has four defensive linemen and three linebackers; conversely, the 3–4 defense has three linemen and four linebackers.
In the 4–3 defense there are four down linemen and three linebackers. The middle linebacker is designated "Mike" (or "Mac") and two outside linebackers are designated "Sam" and "Will" according to how they line up against the offensive formation. If there is a strong call, the linebacker on the strongside is called "Sam", while the linebacker on the weakside is called "Will". The outside linebacker's job is to cover the end to make sure a run doesn't escape, and to watch the pass and protect from it. The middle linebacker's job is to stop runs between the tackles and watch the entire field to see the play develop. On pass plays, the linebackers' responsibilities vary based upon whether a man or zone coverage is called. In a zone coverage, the linebackers will generally drop into hook zones across the middle of the field. However, some zones will send the outside linebackers into the flats (area directly to the left and right of the hash marks, extending 4–5 yards downfield). In a man-to-man call, the "Sam" will often cover the tight end with help from a safety over the top, while at other times, the "Sam" and "Will" will be responsible for the first man out of the backfield on their side of the center, with the "Mike" covering if a second man exits on that side of the field.
In the "Tampa 2" zone defense the middle linebacker is required to drop quickly into a deep middle zone pass coverage thus requiring a quick player at this position.
In the 3–4 defense there are three linemen playing the line of scrimmage with four linebackers backing them up, typically two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers. The weak side inside linebacker is typically called the "Will," while the strong side or middle inside linebacker is called the "Mike". "Sam" is a common designation for strong outside linebacker, while the other position is usually called "Jack" and is often a hybrid DE/LB. Usually, teams that run a 3–4 defense look for college defensive ends that are too small to play the position in the pros and not quite fluid enough to play outside linebacker in a 4–3 defense as their "Jack" linebacker.
The idea behind the 3–4 defense is to disguise where the fourth rusher will come from. Instead of the standard four down-linemen in the 4–3, only three players are clearly attacking on nearly every play. A key for running this defense successfully is having a defensive front of three large defensive linemen who command constant double teams. In particular, the nose tackle, who plays over the offensive center, must be able to hold ground and to occupy several offensive blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays. The focus of the 3–4 defensive line is to occupy offensive linemen thus freeing the linebackers to tackle the running back or to rush the passer or otherwise drop into pass coverage.
Generally, the primary responsibilities for both outside linebackers are to stop the run and rush the quarterback in passing situations, in which they line in front of the tackles like true defensive ends. The outside linebackers in a 3–4 defense are players who are very skilled at rushing the quarterback and they would be playing defensive end in a 4–3 defense. When it comes to the inside linebackers, one is generally a run-stuffing player who is better able to handle offensive linemen and stop running backs when the offense features a running play, while the other is often a smaller, faster player who excels in pass coverage. However, the smaller or cover LB should also be able to scrape and plug running lanes decently.
The design concept of the 3–4 defense is to confuse the offensive line in their blocking assignments, particularly in pass blocking, and to create a more complex read for the quarterback. Many 3–4 defenses have the ability to quickly hybrid into a 4–3 on the field.
In the 46 defense there are four linemen, three linebackers and a safety who is moved up behind the line of scrimmage. Thus, it appears as if there are 4 linebackers, but it is really 3 linebackers with one safety playing up with the other linebackers.
Three of the defensive linemen are over both of the offensive guards and the center, thereby making it difficult to double team any one of the three interior defensive linemen. This can also take away the ability of the offense to pull the guards on a running play, because this would leave one of the defenders unblocked, or, at best, give another lineman a very difficult block to make on one of the defenders. The safety, like the linebacker, can blitz, play man-on-man, play zone, or drop back into deep coverage like a normal safety would do. The 46 is used in heavy run situations to stop the run, when a team wants to bring lots of pressure, or merely to confuse the quarterback and offensive line.
This defense is effective at run-stopping but is weaker than a 4–3 defense at pass coverage because it uses only three defensive backs. One of the outside linebackers is usually called into either blitz or pass coverage to make up for the missing DB. In the NFL and college football, this alignment is used mainly in short yardage situations or near the goal line. It is commonly used in high school football.
|Positions in American football and Canadian football|
|Offense (Skill position)||Defense||Special teams|
|Linemen||Guard, Tackle, Center||Linemen||Tackle, End||Kicking players||Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist|
|Quarterback (Dual-threat, Game manager, System)||Linebacker||Snapping||Long snapper, Holder|
|Backs||Halfback/Tailback (Triple-threat), Fullback, H-back, Wingback||Backs||Cornerback, Safety, Halfback, Nickelback, Dimeback||Returning||Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer, Upman|
|Receivers||Wide receiver (Eligible), Tight end, Slotback, End||Tackling||Gunner, Upback, Utility|
|Formations (List) — Nomenclature — Strategy|
The 1979 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held May 3–4, 1979, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
The Buffalo Bills held the first overall pick in the draft, acquired from the San Francisco 49ers in the trade which sent O.J. Simpson to his hometown team. The Bills' selection at No. 1, Ohio State linebacker Tom Cousineau, refused to sign with the Bills and instead inked a lucrative deal with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Cousineau returned to the United States in 1982 to play for the Cleveland Browns, his hometown franchise.1980 NFL Draft
The 1980 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 29–30, 1980, at the New York Sheraton Hotel in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season. This draft is notable as the first that the nascent ESPN network (which had first gone on the air seven months earlier) aired in its entirety, and the first to be televised.1981 NFL Draft
The 1981 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 28–29, 1981, at the New York Sheraton Hotel in New York City. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
For the first time, the top two picks of the draft were named Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, respectively.1982 NFL Draft
The 1982 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 27–28, 1982, at the New York Sheraton Hotel in New York City, New York. At the time of the draft the Raiders were still the Oakland Raiders, they relocated to Los Angeles in May 1982. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.1984 NFL Draft
The 1984 NFL Draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held May 1–2, 1984, at the Omni Park Central Hotel in New York City, New York. No teams elected to claim any players in the regular supplemental draft that year. The NFL did have a special supplemental draft for college seniors who had already signed with the USFL or CFL on June 5, 1984.
The 1984 draft was the first in ten years in which a quarterback was not selected in the first round; the first quarterback selected in 1984 was Boomer Esiason, who was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round, with the 38th overall pick.1986 NFL Draft
The 1986 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 29–30, 1986, at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
The first overall selection, Bo Jackson, had told the Buccaneers prior to the draft that he would refuse to sign with the team. Disputes with team owner Hugh Culverhouse intensified after Jackson was ruled ineligible to play college baseball due to a trip he took with Culverhouse. This angered Jackson, as Culverhouse had assured him that the visit wouldn't cause any NCAA violations. It was said that Jackson, who was having what he called his best year playing baseball in school, made the Buccaneers nervous and that by getting him somehow ruled ineligible to play baseball, he would be forced to focus on football. Prior to the 1987 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers forfeited their rights to Jackson.1987 NFL Draft
The 1987 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 28–29, 1987, at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.1989 NFL Draft
The 1989 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 23–24, 1989, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
The draft is noted for having four of the first five players selected – quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Barry Sanders, linebacker Derrick Thomas, and cornerback Deion Sanders – being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Offensive tackle Tony Mandarich, the only top five pick not inducted, is considered a draft bust.
The 1989 NFL Draft also helped set a major precedent, as Barry Sanders was selected with the third overall pick despite an NFL rule stating that collegiate juniors could not declare for the draft.1990 NFL Draft
The 1990 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 22–23, 1990, at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
The Dallas Cowboys would have had the #1 overall pick in the draft for the second consecutive year by virtue of their league-worst 1–15 record in 1989. However, the Cowboys forfeited their first-round pick by selecting quarterback Steve Walsh in the first round of the previous year's supplemental draft. The first pick instead went to the Atlanta Falcons, who traded it to the Indianapolis Colts.1991 NFL Draft
The 1991 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 21–22, 1991, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, New York. On that day, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail from the University of Notre Dame, who was projected as the number one overall pick, instead signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL). No teams elected to claim any players in the supplemental draft that year.
The first six selections of the draft were defensive players. No previous draft had begun with more than three consecutive defensive picks.1992 NFL Draft
The 1992 NFL draft was the procedure by which National Football League teams selected amateur college football players. It is officially known as the NFL Annual Player Selection Meeting. The draft was held April 26–27, 1992, at the Marriot Marquis in New York City, New York. The league also held a supplemental draft after the regular draft and before the regular season.
The 1992 draft was notable because for the first time since 1958 one team, the Indianapolis Colts, held the first two overall picks. Neither made a major impact in the league, and the 1992 draft in retrospect is considered one of the worst in league history. It is the only draft since 1960 to produce no Pro Football Hall of Famers. It was also the final NFL Draft featuring twelve rounds of selections; the league would reduce the rounds to eight the following season, and then seven the year after that, where it has remained since.C. J. Mosley (linebacker)
Clint Mosley Jr. (born June 19, 1992) is an American football linebacker for the New York Jets of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Alabama, and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.Clay Matthews III
William Clay Matthews III (born May 14, 1986) is an American football outside linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League (NFL). After attending Agoura High School in Agoura Hills, California, Matthews was a walk-on student athlete at the University of Southern California for the USC Trojans football team under head coach Pete Carroll. At USC, Matthews was a standout special-teams player, winning three consecutive Special Teams Player of the Year awards from 2006 to 2008. He also played reserve outside linebacker during those years before moving into a starting role his senior season. During his college career, he was a part of three Pac-10 Championship teams.
Matthews was considered a top prospect for the 2009 NFL Draft. He was ultimately selected by the Packers in the first round of the draft (26th overall) after the team traded up to make the selection. In his rookie year, Matthews recorded 10 sacks while playing outside linebacker. He topped that total in 2010 with 13.5 sacks, helping the Packers to their Super Bowl XLV victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Matthews continued his role as a leading pass rusher, recording at least six sacks in the first nine seasons he played. He also has showed his athleticism and abilities by playing both inside and outside linebacker during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
A member of the Matthews family of football players, he is the son of former NFL linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. and nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews.Mark Jerue
Mark Darrell Jerue (born January 15, 1960) is a former professional American football linebacker in the National Football League. He played seven seasons for the Los Angeles Rams (1983–1989).Mike Cofer (linebacker)
Michael Lynn Cofer (April 7, 1960 – March 21, 2019) was an American football linebacker in the National Football League. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the third round of the 1983 NFL Draft. He was a Pro Bowl selection in 1988.
Cofer played college football at Tennessee, where he was a captain of the 1982 squad.National Football League Rookie of the Year Award
Various entities present a National Football League Rookie of the Year Award each season to the top rookie(s) in the National Football League (NFL). The NFL considers the rookie of the year awards by the Associated Press (AP) to be its official honor. The AP awards and Pepsi's rookie of the year award are presented each year at the NFL Honors.Operation Linebacker
Operation Linebacker was the codename of a U.S. Seventh Air Force and U.S. Navy Task Force 77 air interdiction campaign conducted against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 9 May to 23 October 1972, during the Vietnam War.
Its purpose was to halt or slow the transportation of supplies and materials for the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive), an invasion of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) by forces of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) that had been launched on 30 March. Linebacker was the first continuous bombing effort conducted against North Vietnam since the end of Operation Rolling Thunder in November 1968.Operation Linebacker II
Operation Linebacker II was a US Seventh Air Force and US Navy Task Force 77 aerial bombing campaign, conducted against targets in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) during the final period of US involvement in the Vietnam War. The operation was conducted from 18 to 29 December 1972, leading to several informal names such as "The December Raids" and "The Christmas Bombings". Unlike the Operation Rolling Thunder and Operation Linebacker interdiction operations, Linebacker II was to be a "maximum effort" bombing campaign to "destroy major target complexes in the Hanoi and Haiphong areas, which could only be accomplished by B-52s". It saw the largest heavy bomber strikes launched by the US Air Force since the end of World War II. Linebacker II was a modified extension of the Operation Linebacker bombings conducted from May to October, when the emphasis of the new campaign shifted to attacks by B-52s rather than smaller tactical fighter aircraft.Ray Lewis
Raymond Anthony Lewis Jr. (born May 15, 1975) is a former American football linebacker who played all of his 17-year professional career for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL). He previously played college football for the University of Miami, and earned All-America honors. Lewis was drafted by the Ravens in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft, and upon his retirement following the 2012 season, was the last remaining active player from the team's inaugural season.
Lewis played middle linebacker his entire career, and is considered to be one of the greatest ever to play the position. He was a 13-time Pro Bowler, a 10-time All-Pro, and one of the few players in NFL history to play in a Pro Bowl in three different decades (1990s, 2000s, and 2010s). He is also considered to be the greatest Baltimore Raven of all-time.Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with the stabbing deaths of two men in 2000. The following season, he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year and led the Ravens' record-setting defense to victory in Super Bowl XXXV. Lewis also became the second linebacker to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player Award, and the first to win the award on the winning Super Bowl team. Lewis won his second Defensive Player of the Year award in 2003, becoming the sixth player to win the award multiple times. After a triceps tear that sidelined him for most of the 2012–13 season, Lewis returned for the Ravens' playoff run and earned his second Super Bowl victory in his final NFL game. On February 3, 2018, the fifth anniversary of his final game, Lewis was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Gridiron football concepts
|Levels of play|