Well on to our next position group. Last week we talked about the defense that directly lined up on the line of scrimmage. This week we will look at the defense that usually defends the middle of the field. They are the linebackers. (See the LB in chart below) Most of the time, the linebackers are the most recognizable figures on the defense. Think of Ray Lewis and Lawrence Taylor. Have I lost you yet? Think of the craziest characters on a defense. The men who wear eye-black down their cheeks to their chins. They scream, make up wild dances in the pre-game, wild dances if they sack the quarterback, wild dances if they intercept the ball and they dance wildly post-game. They tend to have a half-crazed looks to their eyes. And although they might not make your top prospects in dating your daughter, they should be first on the list for leaders on your defense.
The linebackers usually line up a few yards back of the line of scrimmage, behind the defensive ends and the tackles. There are three different types of linebackers. They are the middle, strong side, and weak side linebackers. The middle linebacker is the best known position. The middle linebacker is also known as the Mike linebacker. This position’s job description includes lining up opposite the offense’s center but off the line of scrimmage about 3 or 4 yards. He is also known as the “quarterback” of the defense because is the one who directs the defense with play calls. During the play, he is responsible for the middle of the field action, or in other words, stopping the action. His assignment usually includes stopping the quarterback and/or the running back.
Another linebacker is the strong side linebacker or the Sam linebacker. If you remember a few blogs back, the strong side of the line of scrimmage is the side where the tight end lines up. It is called “strong” because there is an extra man (the tight end). The Sam linebacker lines up wherever the tight end on the offense lines up. His job description is to make the tight end’s life miserable. If the play isn’t going to include the tight end then the Sam linebacker goes after the quarterback or the running back. The Sam linebacker is usually a little bigger than the other linebackers because the tight ends tend to be bigger football players.
The other linebacker is the weak side linebacker or the Will linebacker. The term “weak side” in no way describes him; it only describes the side of the line of scrimmage without the extra man. That is the side of the line of scrimmage that he lines up against. His job description is a little more varied as he usually isn’t assigned to a specific player. Depending on the defensive call he either drops back for a passing play or tries to sack the quarterback. The Will linebacker is usually a little smaller than the Sam linebacker but quicker and more agile in order to have an easier time adjusting to the play.
I am not sure where the nicknames came from. The educated guesses infer that it is easier to call “Mike, Sam or Will” in the huddle than “middle, strong side or weak side”. My own imagination thinks that no one wants to call a professional football player “weak” and so in a very impartial decision, they decided to rename all of them. Then there is the very real threat of being pummeled by a furious weak side line backer followed by wild dancing.