The Anatomy of a Linebacker by Jon Braddock

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If a perfect linebacker was created the biological make up of this specimen would be drawn from NFL and CFL hall of famers, pro bowlers, all-stars, and veteran leaders that sheriff the middle of the defense. There’s no single component that measures, or defines what makes a great linebacker. Its many components that must be prepped, seasoned, allowed to marinate and mature over time to become a perfect linebacker. Character, discipline, leadership, heart, desire, a high football IQ, athleticism and Intensity are the standout elements to what makes a great linebacker.

Being a linebacker has to be a part of your nature, to be a great linebacker you want to get your hands dirty, you want to run into the middle of traffic and sort through the mess. You have a desire to achieve, and yearn to make the plays when all odds are stacked up against you. When push comes to shove you want everyone on the other side of the ball to know that your objective will not be tampered with, and that every play you make, must be made with the force that will have the offense from the players to the coaching staff echoing your name in aggravation for eternity. In other words if you’re only as good as your last play, you might as well leave an imprint!

Football is a game of organized chaos, where each player on the field has a role, and a specific place to be on every down, and on every play. A linebacker’s role is to essentially support the defensive line on defending the run, and to provide assistance to the defensive backs in pass coverage. Linebackers are the abdomen of the defense, and if your core unit is not strong, you will fail to support your defense, and it’s as simple as that.As a Linebacker its apart of your responsibility to know where everyone on the defense is to be on each play, for the mere fact that you have both run and pass responsibilities. It’s not the brawn that get the job done, but the intelligence to process the play call, make the proper reads and adjustments based on the offenses alignment prior to the snap of the ball, to then being physically versatile enough to defend both the run and the pass.

The only way to master the art of being a linebacker is to know your playbook from the front to back, and knowing your role. Having strong communication with your coaches, linebackers, defensive line, and defensive backs is crucial. Most pre snap adjustments are made by the linebackers. To be on top of this it’s imperative that you study your opponent extensively by watching their game tape repeatedly to pick up on the offenses tendencies. Both Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, and former Toronto Argo and future CFL hall of famer Mike O’Shea where perfect examples of being able to master the mental aspect of being a linebacker. Theknowledge acquired from studying and homework of their opponents, as well as their leadership, and their abilities to communicate, empower them to read, anticipate, call the right defensive adjustments, and make plays on top of it. Mastering the mental aspect of being a linebacker is demanding and comes along with huge responsibilities with the utmost attention to detail. The physicality associated with being a linebacker is what’s made the position legendary, and one of the most honoured positions in sports.

What really makes a linebacker tick is the pursuit of an explosive hit, the perfect hit that changes the game, seals the win, that gets the crowd and team all riled up. Being able to explode through a ball carrier has a few requirements; power, speed, good body position, discipline, andno fear. Fear should only enter your head if you’re not going through the proper motions to put yourself in a position to make a tackle. Former defensive player of the year Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears is 6’4 and nimble enough to get himin the proper leverageposition from a low base stance, to be an elite tackling machine. The proper linebacker stance is to have your feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, butt low, back straight, shoulders leaning forward over your knees on the balls of your toes, head up, and hands ready in position to seek and shed the first thing in the wrong uniform that comes your way. This past 2010 NFL season 21 out of the top 25 leading tacklers where linebackers. The position demands a sure tackler, a group that the defense can be dependent upon. There is no physical dimension that defines a perfect sized linebacker, Former 5 time Pro Bowler Sam Mills played the position at 5’9 232 lbs., Dexter Coakley a 3 time pro bowler who ended his career with 13 interceptions played for the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams at 5’10 230 lbs. Future hall of famer Zach Thomas played the position and 5’11 242 lbs, had an illustrious career of 17 interceptions, and 1,076 tackles, that’s more tackles then any linebacker currently in the hall of fame. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Levon Kirkland was 6’1 300 lbs, and was a productive 2 time pro bowler during his career. It’s not the physical size that determines a great linebacker it’s the measure of heart, the discipline, dedication, and attitude of the linebacker that determines if they’re to be great.

What combines the mental and physical aspects to becoming a great linebacker is respect andattitude for the game. There is a certain bravado that comes attached with the position, and its key in fuelling the whole psychology intobecoming a great linebacker. Respecting the position and the historical contributions made over the years by athletes who played the role, adds a sense of pride and dignity that have made the game and position what it is today. Great linebacking corps from great teams of old and present such as the New York Giants that included Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, and Carl Banks, Sam Huff, and Jesse Armstead. The once in a life time group that played for the New Orleans Saints, Ricky Jackson, Sam Mills, and Vaughn Johnson. The Great linebackers that have played at various times for the Steelers like, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, James Harrison,and Larry Foote. The Chicago Bears lineage of linebacker greats, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary, Brian Urlacher, and Lance Briggs have all earned the privilege to walk around with the swag badge of honour. It’s their enthusiasm, passion, love, character, discipline, leadership, heart, desire, high football IQ, athleticism and Intensitythat made these linebackers the standout athletes and leaders that they are, and will forever be woven within the anatomy of a linebacker.
For those who answer the call to become one, you already are one. Just follow these key steps and you too can add your name to the list of linebacker greats. In the meantime, keep fit, have fun, and tackle safe.

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