Linebackers are versatile athletes with a variety of demands on the football field. Depending on the situation and their team's defensive philosophy, they may be stopping running plays, blitzing the quarterback or covering a man or zone on a passing play. Linebackers need the ability to accelerate quickly and change direction effectively without losing control of their speed and balance or losing sight of the field. Speed workouts are important and beneficial in developing critical skills such as acceleration, agility and lateral movement.
Linebackers have to be able to close quickly on a hole or ball carrier. This is the acceleration phase of sprinting, and linebackers need the ability to accelerate anywhere from 5 to 15 yards quickly. Correct acceleration involves driving force backward on the balls of the feet to move forward in a low angle with the hips forward. To improve acceleration, linebackers need to practice 10- and 20-yard sprints with an emphasis on reaching top speed, then decelerating by taking small, quick steps on the ball of their feet and lowering their center of gravity.
Lateral Movement Drill
Linebackers need to be able to change direction at full speed and make fast, lateral movements. These athletes should practice short shuttle drills involving both forward sprints and lateral movement in a small radius. An example is the 20-yard shuttle. Begin straddling the 10-yard line, move laterally to the 5-yard line and touch the line with your hand, change direction and sprint 10 yards in the opposite direction to the 15-yard line and touch the line with your hand, then sprint back through the middle back to the 10-yard line. This can be a timed drill or performed for a set number of reps.
Hip Mobility Drill
Linebackers have to be able move and react in passing coverage without losing sight of the player they are assigned to cover or the football. To accomplish this they need to be able to disassociate the shoulders and hips and move the lower body in concert with their opponent without turning their shoulders from the football. The hip turn, hip flip or quarter eagle drill is excellent for this. To perform the drill, bounce on the balls of your feet, have a coach say or point left or right, turn the hips 90 degrees in that direction without turning the shoulders, then return to starting position. Repeat at full speed for eight to 10 reps.
Quick Feet Drill
Linebackers have to be quick on their feet to react to plays. This includes reducing their ground contact time when reacting and making a play. Simply put, the more time spent on the ground, the less time spent moving toward the play. The quick-step drill is an excellent tool to reduce ground contact time. To perform the drill, begin on the balls of your feet and pick one foot up in the air approximately ankle high, the opposite arm moving forward. Switch the feet as fast as possible while gradually moving forward. Perform the drill for 5 yards then walk 5 yards. Repeat this sequence for four sets.