Today we’re going to show some love to the heart of the defense, the middle linebacker/inside linebacker. In Middle Linebacker Tips, we’re gonna take a look at what the NFL looks for in middle linebackers.
FYI, there’s a part two to this series… Click here to check out Middle Linebacker Tips Part 2.
Today’s information comes from two very credible individuals when it comes to NFL personnel: the late, great, 3-time NFL Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Walsh, and Greg Gabriel, a gentleman with nearly 30 years of experience scouting for multiple NFL teams.
Instincts. Gabriel feels this is the most important trait, and he explains why:
He has to be able to read quickly while on the move and get to the ball. In most cases, the leading tackler on a defense is a linebacker and while many linebackers have a lot of tackles, you want those tackles to be made at or near the line of scrimmage, not down field.
Walsh on how to recognize a middle linebacker with exceptional instincts:
“It’s difficult to describe how to look for instinct, but the guys who find a way to get to the football and make the tackle, they probably have it.”
Speed. Gabriel on speed:
…linebackers have to have excellent speed. Different schemes have different speed requirements, but everyone would love a linebacker who could run between 4.55 and 4.65. Ideally, 4.65 to 4.75 will work for many different defenses.
He continues to elaborate on the difference between playing speed and timed speed, and which is more important:
More important than timed speed is play speed and that is tied in with instincts. There are not many who would argue that last year’s rookie Brandon Spikes played fast, but he was able to do that because of his great instincts and anticipation. Reality is he is a 5.00 type but he plays mush faster then he times.
He finishes up his thoughts on speed by stating that 3-4 teams look for inside linebackers that run the 40 between a 4.7 and a 4.8.
>> Related: 40 Yard Dash Training Tips
Quick hands and blocker anticipation. Linebackers hang their hat on the number of tackles they get, and Gabriel says that in order to shed blocks, a linebacker must be able to anticipate blocks and have quick hands.
Explosion/burst. Linebackers need to have the explosion to cover tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, and last, but certainly not least, to inflict pain and fear in the minds and hearts of ball carriers.
Ability to shed blocks. Simply put, in his article, Gabriel says that he can tell whether or not a linebacker has the ability to shed blocks well by looking at the number of tackles they’ve accumulated:
If a linebacker has a high number of tackles that means he has the ability to shed blocks quickly.
Ability to tackle. We don’t really need to explain this one, do we?
Patrick Willis is a monster at middle linebacker. Remember when Mr. Gabriel mentioned that if a linebacker racks up a lot of tackles, he’s good at shedding blocks? Well, Patrick Willis is always near the top of the league in tackles.
He lead the league with 174 his rookie year. Willis has the speed that scouts salivate over. He ran a 4.52 at the combine… at 242 pounds.
One of the reasons why he’s so good is that he actually plays with the speed he has, it’s not just stopwatch speed. In every single play, you can see how explosive the guy is. He explodes through the ball carrier on just about every tackle.
At the 1:05 mark, he uses textbook technique with his hands and anticipation of the movements of the offensive lineman as he sheds the block and gets to the ball.
Click here to check out part 2 of this series.
Let me ask you this, Patrick Willis is the best MLB in the game… true or false? Leave a comment!
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Note: If you’re interested in checking out the articles I referenced in this post, below you’ll find the links to their articles.
Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Inside/Middle Linebacker and
Greg Gabriel’s Scouting Linebackers article at the National Football Post.
NFL Scouts Grading Criteria – Linebacker from sportznutz.com.