Friday, June 14, 2013


The following drill was stolen after visiting Vince Okruch’s Western Illinois 3-3 nickel practices as well as from Jeff Walker’s exhaustive work, “Coaching the 40 Nickel Defense”, which every coach absolutely needs to own. I find this drill to be the single most important technique reinforcement tool to develop consistent linebackers.  The drill can be conducted at varying levels of difficulty and lends itself to training many players in rapid succession.

The drill represents the run fits for your linebacker group, broken into 3 distinct reactions; In, At, and Out (represented here in green, yellow, red).

The IN area is any quick hitting play between the guards.  This is the responsibility of the middle or stack (inside) linebacker.  Plays represented here would be dive, trap, or wedge. 

The AT area is an immediate responsibility of the bubble (outside) linebacker sandwiched between the guard and inside the tight end.  Iso, zone, and power are common “At” runs.

The “Out” area is any play which leaves the box (outside the TE) towards the perimeter, such as toss, sweep, stretch.

We use this drill from day 1 after teaching stance and starts.  It is best when repped at a high-tempo, with verbal cues provided, but no stopping of the drill; make intensity the priority and discourage improper footwork.  Don’t try to over-complicate the drill or trick your linebackers. This should be an easy exercise to develop confidence in your players. Also, DO NOT use a ball in this drill, as it will only slow you down and isn’t what you are reinforcing with this drill.  

We introduce the drill using (single) back flow.  We don't exclusively read the flow of the backfield players, as linemen keys are essential, but for the sake of indoctrination we develop our linebackers in stages.  The natural way to play linebacker is to just chase after backs. The old school way of doing this was to line your linebackers in front of offensive linemen hoping one of them can provide a decent offensive lineman block (down, pull, base, scoop, etc).  This could be frustrating, because if your backer didn’t understand the block, he couldn’t progress in his development and damaged his confidence. Whether ingrained at the lower levels or not, use this momentum to build their skillset rather than trying to “break them” of bad habits. We start with a single back, then progress to adding guards with the read.  During camp, we actually paint the field for this drill, just like the (Texas vs. OSU) illustration above. 

To explain this drill, it’s important to first understand its benefits.  The purpose is to train your linebackers on the proper:
  •        Tempo
  •        Footwork
  •        Movement
  •        Reads
  •        Leverage
  •        Run support fits

For the entire article about how to run this drill and coaching points used, visit 

We set this drill up just with a centered location (ball), a line of scrimmage, an offensive read player 5 yards deep from the ball spot, and linebackers in the called front alignment.  

Linebackers will align with their heels at 5 yards from the LOS, keying the back.  The back will be given one of the three responses and on command (cadence) will move towards the appropriate (In, At, or Out) area.  When the back provides a read, the linebackers should shuffle and press the area being attacked and race through the LOS. 

This drill should reinforce “run through” gap support.  It isn’t enough to get the initial footwork correct; there has to be follow-through on the execution.  Once a linebacker has committed to his gap, he should be running through the gap (tackling the ‘ball carrier’ isn’t necessary for this drill).  For this drill, once the linebackers acknowledge the key they are given, they just need to move correctly and blow through their fit.  This drill should be run at a very high tempo and because it’s just being used for run fits, you can have lines of other defenders ready for their turn at each linebacker spot once a play is run.


BACK: On command, step forward between the ball spot and the guard, and ¾ speed run to the LOS.

TO LB: Identifying that the back is heading to the IN (the back is not laterally stepping or turning his hips outside), the linebacker should mimic the back’s footwork and step forward in a free run to the A gap.  This linebacker should actually run past the back’s outside shoulder.

AWAY LB: If the away linebacker does not see the back’s shoulders heading toward him, he can rule out being threatened immediately.  He will vertically press his gap with 2 shuffles, then race to stack the opposite A gap while keeping his shoulders parallel to the LOS.  This linebacker should find himself inside the back as he reaches the LOS.

BACK: On command, take a lateral step in the direction of AT area.  The next step should crossover this first step towards the area outside the tackle and ¾ speed run to the LOS.

TO LB: Identifying that the back has gained outside momentum with the lateral step and the immediate IN area is not threatened, the linebacker should vertically press his primary play side gap for 2 steps.  Once he sees the crossover step of the back (the back’s shoulders are no longer parallel with the LOS) he should free run to just inside the tackle position.

AWAY LB: As the back gains lateral distance from the ball spot, the linebacker would shuffle and press (staying parallel to the LOS) for 3 steps and on the fourth step engage a free run to stack the A gap inside-out, closing any potential cutback of the back. 

BACK: On command, take an exaggerated step (open the hips to the sideline) outside and ¾ speed run to the sideline.

TO LB: With the back turning his body away from the IN and AT areas, where the linebacker can see the helmet earholes of the back, he should vertically press his primary gap for 2 steps, then ‘bounce’ to outside the tackle.  He is inside-out on the back, closing any cutback lanes and spilling to the force player.

AWAY LB: With the back presenting his back to this linebacker’s play side, the linebacker should shuffle 3 steps and look to stack the away side A gap, and then run his feet.  This linebacker has closed any cutback and is in position to go “over the top” of the front on a secondary pursuit angle if the back breaks the line of scrimmage (though it is not necessary to rep that in this drill).


For linebackers inside the tackle box, their feet should be within their body, slightly wider than shoulder-width and never leave this position until they are in a free run.  Inside the box, there isn’t any room for false steps.  If you’re in a 40 nickel/reduced front, you’ll have two true linebacker types to clean up between the tackles.  The quick hitting run game has to end with these two defenders, so they cannot be out of position.  With the In-At-Out drill, these inside players should be moving with a shuffle technique; pushing off the away foot and catching with the destination foot.  Coincidentally, this is exactly how we teach shuffling in the secondary. At the snap, they should be moving forward, towards the ball, and laterally with their feet underneath them.

To get the most return out of this drill, you should be reinforcing HOW your linebackers should be moving towards their destination.  The purpose is to develop a rhythm for playing the position, timing each step.  This rote method will produce a comfort level of familiarity with your players, giving them more confidence in their role on the field and reduce hesitancy and “freelancing”.

This picture shows an ideal stance for an inside player.  This position looks exactly like any 2-point defender would be in before he began any other essential drill, such as block destruction, 2 point extension, form tackling, etc, with his hips coiled and relaxed upper body, capable of moving in any direction. As the linebacker begins movement to his left, he should drive off his right foot and force his lead (left) foot to catch the ground at 6-8 inches from where it started.  Once the lead foot “catches”, the linebacker has retained his shoulder-width base.  He can redirect himself if needed because he hasn’t overextended his feet.   Heels should not click and the player should not rise (keep knees bent).
Wide, exaggerated stances only lead to wasted movement inside the tackle box.  Overhang/outside linebackers can be free to line up how they feel comfortable, as they will have much more area to respond to. Inside linebackers should be corrected out of this type of habit.


We’ve explained how this drill works with your inside linebackers.  You can easily add overhang players to the drill with the main coaching points being:
OUT Action TO: Any outside action to, this defender should be free running up the field, closing the perimeter running lane for the back, keeping his shoulders square to the LOS.  The back
Action AWAY: linebacker should shuffle inside laterally for 3 steps and then gain depth from the LOS.  The key is for this player to not get in a habit of turning his shoulders away from the LOS immediately but insure the cutback is closed before engaging in secondary pursuit.

When your players master the basics of back flow and linebacker movement, begin adding other read players like guards, wings, and other backs.  Use complimenting reads to start.  Whether your linebackers are consciously keying the guards or not won’t matter right away.  Conditioning them to digest this added stimuli as they respond to flow is what matters.
Adding guards to the read

    Adding a (lead) back to the read

We can add TE (and/or wing) or a second back, as well.  We have used this drill facing zone-read, wing-t, veer, and power-I offenses.  Modify the reads as you see fit, just remember what you are trying to accomplish. If you’re adding more and more offensive players, you might be better served to wait for “team” periods.  
Indy and Group linebacker drills should be 3-5 step, high repetition exercises to reinforce fundamental technique to get your players to not only do it right, but do it better than anyone else in your conference.
If the back flow and guard read are consistent, attack the appropriate gap. 

If the back flow and guard read or not consistent, guard read wins out. 


For a more details on this drill, please visit Coach Barry Hoover’s football website at I hope this article helps spark an interest for streamlining what you reinforce to your defenders, and this helps improve your linebackers next season. 

1 comment:

Troy Fetty said...

Fantastic article!