In part 1 of Middle Linebacker Tips we took a look at Patrick Willis, and analyzed some of the skills and abilities he possesses that NFL scouts look for.
Let’s finish up.
Change of direction, balance, and lateral movement. Gabriel explains that he looks for linebackers that have all three of these attributes, because they need to be able to move quickly in all directions to get through the trash and get to the ball.
Pass coverage skills. Linebackers have to be able to cover and tackle running backs and tight ends, regardless of whether they’re being asked to play man or zone coverage.
Loose hips. Linebackers have to have loose hips so they can easily turn, run, and change directions in a fluid motion.
Size. Gabriel on size:
…The ideal player would be 6-1 to 6-2 in height and weigh about 235 to 245 pounds… in some other 4 -3 schemes, the clubs may want a little bit more size… In the 3-4 defenses, clubs almost always look for size. It’s not unusual for a typical inside linebacker to be 6-3 to 6-4 and weigh 250 to 260 pounds.
Walsh on size:
…the middle linebacker must have an indestructible body. There have been great hitters who damaged themselves in the process. Your middle linebacker can’t be in and out of the game or limping off the field. So it takes a powerful physique with bone girth that allows you to give and take punishment.
Strength. Inside linebackers have to be strong enough to withstand the force of blockers making contact and hitting them from every direction.
Quickness. Walsh on quickness:
(Middle/inside linebackers) cannot avoid a lot of people to get to the ball or they won’t get there. If they take the way around somebody to avoid being blocked, then they have, in effect, been blocked.
Walsh believed that Mike Singletary set the standard when it came to quickness at the position:
(Mike Singletary) would get the jump on the blocker. He would meet the blocker before the blocker was ready. Then he would get off the block, or shed the blocker, and then move to the ball almost without wasting a step.
Body control. There’s not a place on the football field that body control isn’t helpful. Linebackers with the body control NFL scouts look for are able command their body movement regardless of the direction that their momentum is taking them.
Hands. As a linebacker, you’re often called to drop back in coverage, and it helps if you can catch the ball when it’s in your vicinity.
…look at Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. These are all players I’ve been around in my years scouting with the Giants and the Bears. All were/are very smart guys who can lead verbally and by example and are extremely aggressive players. Their ability to make big plays with big hits has a way of motivating a team.
Now let’s watch the skills in-action.
Next to the word LEADER in the dictionary should be a picture of Ray Lewis on the football field. I get jacked up just visualizing being in that circle while he’s getting the troops ready for battle.
Ray’s listed weight at NFL.com is 6-1 250, just about right on the mark with what Gabriel said he looked for in ideal size.
He has a pick at about the :40 mark, and another at about 1:00 in on the video, both were all hands. On the second pick, look at how natural he looks as he opens his hips and drops into coverage. He’s always been great in pass coverage.
Notice how agile he is when he plays. On plays like the one he makes on the running back around the :53 mark, look at how easily he moves laterally as he mirrors the running back.
As of the end of September 2011, he’s only 6 interceptions short of tying the record for the most picks by a linebacker in NFL history.
UPDATE: The video below of Ray Lewis isn’t the same as the one that was originally here, so the time references above probably aren’t valid anymore.
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