Best Football Drills For Linebackers

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Linebackers are one of the most versatile players on the football field, and the demands on them are enormous.

They need to read coverages, diagnose a play as it unfolds, shed blocks, make tackles, sack the quarterback, and cover receivers on pass plays. And they will also need to win any staring contest (Mike Singletary comes to mind)!

But seriously, I want guys who can do it all because they will play linebacker better than anyone else.

The best way to become an elite linebacker who can handle all those responsibilities and more is to practice, practice.
You need to do specific drills that will improve your mind’s and your body’s ability to execute everything that is asked of you as a linebacker.

Here are some of the best football drills for linebackers.

Track Tackle Drill

One of the many responsibilities of a linebacker is to tackle a ball carrier in the open field effectively. This involves finding the ball carrier, deciding on the right angle to take to pursue the ball carrier, and then making the tackle.

A drill to help with this is the Track Tackle Drill (see above video). For this, you will need two players (linebacker and ball carrier).

The players line up 10 yards from each other, close to the sideline. When the drill starts, the ball carrier will be moving towards the interior of the field in a straight line. The linebacker needs to take his read steps (chop feet to stay square and maintain balance) to evaluate the runner and then move forward at an angle keeping his hips square and facing the ball carrier.

As he moves towards the ball carrier, he will need to take more read steps periodically to ensure he is tracking on the right line. Then he can move in to finish off with a simulated tackle, driving through the outside hip of the ball carrier, which is the target for the drill.

Important Points

  • Take your read steps to keep your hips square
  • Maintain balance in case you need to change direction
  • Finish the tackle by driving through the outside hip
  • Do reps to the right and left

Track Tackle Drill

To be an effective linebacker, you need to be able to shed blocks because whether playing inside or outside; you will always have offensive linemen running at you to try to take you out and neutralize you.

This Block And Shed Drill (see above video) can help ensure you don’t find yourself in that position.

This simple drill requires only two players (linebacker and offensive lineman) and can happen anywhere. Once the exercise starts, the players will engage with each other, and the goal of the linebacker is to shed the block so he can be in a position to make a tackle.

He does that by keeping a low base, his hips square, his arms straight, and pushing the blocker aside as he steps through to evaluate the play. If his body gets turned or he lets the offensive lineman get too close to him, then the offensive lineman will gain leverage and have the advantage.

Important Points

  • Keep a low base to control your center of gravity
  • Arms straight to prevent the lineman from getting too close
  • Hips pointed upfield
  • Push the blocker away and step through
  • Do reps to the right and left

Bags To Angle Tackle

Football is a game that is rarely played in straight lines, especially for a linebacker.

Your starting point on any play is almost always in the middle of the field, so there is a lot of ground to cover to either sideline and/or upfield or downfield, depending on where the ball carrier is, to make the tackle.

A linebacker needs to establish the right angle and cover that ground quickly to make the tackle.

The Bags To Angle Tackle Drill (see above video) can help you improve your footwork to make those game-changing tackles.

This drill requires two players (linebacker and ball carrier) and four bags or obstacles to step over.

The linebacker will be the frame of reference when preparing the drill. Set up four bags to his right and staggered at a slight angle away from him and towards the ball carrier. The ball carrier should be 5 yards away from and 5 yards down from the last bag.

When the drill starts, the linebacker should side step over the bags without taking a drop step (step backward) and explode to the side with quick feet over the bags.

After stepping over the last bag, the linebacker should move towards the ball carrier with quick feet and square hips and explode through the simulated tackle.

Important Points

  • No wasted/extra steps
  • Move over the bags with high knees, quick feet, and square hips/shoulders
  • Close the distance fast
  • Chop feet to maintain balance
  • Finish tackle by shooting hips and ripping arms
  • Do reps to the right and left

Change Of Direction Drills

As mentioned above, the linebacker position is rarely played in a straight line, and a linebacker needs to have quick feet to move in different directions if the play warrants it.

A slow transition can make the difference between being a hero and being the guy who missed the tackle as time expires.

I’ve included three examples of Change of Direction Drills (see below videos) to help develop your happy feet.

These drills are simple, can be done anywhere, and just need some cones to set up. You can go with or without the football, as demonstrated in the first two.

Important Points

  • Move your feet!
  • Know where your hips are facing
  • Keep your eyes upfield

Fallback Tackle Drill

One of the most significant tackling risks a linebacker faces is getting exposed if the ball carrier makes a cutback and you’re not prepared for it. That’s an almost certain touchdown you just gave up. So to prevent that, you want to be mentally and physically ready for that possibility in any play.

The Fallback Tackle Drill (see above video) is designed to help you develop the necessary skills to not get burned by the cutback.

This drill requires two players (linebacker and ball carrier). It also requires two large garbage cans, and it is helpful to have a tackle bag.

To set the drill up, place the two garbage cans upside down on the ground next to each other. The linebacker should then set up behind the two garbage cans using them as a reference for the line of scrimmage.

The ball carrier should line up opposite the linebacker four yards back on the other side of the two garbage cans holding the tackle bag.

To start the drill, both players take a couple of steps towards the same can, then the ball carrier cuts back towards the other, and the linebacker chops their feet and explodes in the direction of the cutback and runs through the tackle bag.

Important Points

  • Take the initial read steps towards the ball carrier
  • Read the play and change direction quickly
  • Explode through the tackle
  • Do reps to the right and left

Filling The Hole Drill

As you can tell, many of a linebacker’s responsibilities ultimately end up with you tackling someone. That can happen in many different ways all over the field.

But a lot of the time, you’re going to be asked to diagnose which gap a running back is headed towards and then move forward to close that gap and make a tackle before the running back gets through.

I love those run-stuffing shutdown plays!

The Filling The Hole Drill (see above video) is the ideal drill to help develop the read/react skills necessary to diagnose the play and the quickness needed to move forward and shut the ball carrier down.

This drill requires two players (linebacker and ball carrier) and five bags to represent the offensive line.

Set up the five bags about 2-3 yards apart to simulate the gaps of the line. To start the drill, the players line up across from each other, with the bags between them and just outside the “Tackle” bag.

The linebacker is squared up and facing in a direction perpendicular to the line of bags. Likewise, the ball carrier is facing in a direction parallel to the line of bags.

When the coach blows the whistle, the ball carrier moves forward and turns into one of the gaps, and the linebacker shuffles along the line reading the ball carrier. When the ball carrier turns upfield, the linebacker fills the hole and finishes the simulated tackle of the ball carrier.

Important Points

  • Keep a low base with square hips
  • Shuffle feet, don’t cross them over
  • Explode into the hole to fill it
  • Complete the tackle with a lower pad level than the ball carrier

Filling The Hole Drill

Finally, something fun! Turnovers can be game changers, so it never hurts to spend time developing skills that will help generate more turnovers and swing the momentum in your team’s favor.

Turnover Drills (see video above) has three simple drills to help get turnovers and create momentum. These drills require 2 or 3 players (linebacker(s) and ball carrier) and a ball.

The first drill focuses on the 2-on-1 mindset of creating a turnover while tackling, with the first defensive player wrapping up the ball carrier and the second player coming in and ripping the ball out of the ball carrier’s hand before he goes down.

The second drill focuses on a turnover technique when chasing a ball carrier from behind called the Punch or Hammer, the difference being the Punch is a downward to upward motion of the fist to knock the ball loose, and the Hammer is an upward to downward movement.

The third drill is more of a mindset emphasis of swarming a ball carrier, generating the turnover, and then communicating to your team there was a turnover. Then everyone knows what’s going on.

Important Points

  • In the 2-on-1 drill, make sure one player focuses on the tackle and one on the turnover
  • Perfect your Punch and Hammer technique
  • Play as a team
  • You can never over-communicate on the football field

4th & 10

As you can see from the variety of these drills, linebackers need to do it all.

These drills are a perfect way to hone those skills you’ll need to play in and play out to be a difference maker on the field.

Vision, angles, change of direction, tackling, reaction time, turnovers, and more. These are all traits to master, and you’ll be asked to execute many of them on one play alone!

But if you work, you will be rewarded.

Good luck!

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Brad Smith
Brad Smith
Brad Smith has been coaching high school Football for 6 years in Florida. He and his wife have 3 beautiful children who he hopes will become the first Jaguars to win a Superbowl. Other than Football, Brad loves American litterature, parenting, gardening, and home remodeling.