Defensive ends and linebackers play vital positions in football. While players at both positions make tackles in the running game and rush the passer, there are key differences in the two spots. Defensive ends can set the tone in a football game with their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks, while linebackers usually are defensive leaders because they can make plays all over the field.
The defensive end and the linebacker have significant differences in their responsibilities against the run. The defensive end faces the offensive tackle as the ball is snapped. The defensive end cannot allow the running back to get outside of him on a running play. He must control the offensive tackle and can't allow the offensive tackle to push him inside on a running play that goes toward the sidelines. He must try to shed the blocker and make the tackle. A linebacker has to flow toward the football after it is snapped. Since he is set back from the line of scrimmage, he must get to the ball carrier as quickly as possible and make the tackle. He usually will have to fight off blocks in the process, but he must stop the running back and drive him to the ground with his tackle.
Rushing the Passer
The defensive end has the responsibility of rushing the passer and trying to sack him on nearly every pass play. When the quarterback drops back to pass, the defensive end will try to use an array of moves to get by the offensive tackle and close on the quarterback. The defensive end will use his speed, strength and ingenuity to get to the quarterback. The linebacker occasionally will try to get to the quarterback by charging at him through a crease in the offensive line. This play is called a blitz and is designed to allow a linebacker to run full speed at the quarterback without having an offensive lineman block him. This play is supposed to take the offense by surprise.
On rare occasions, the defensive end will drop back five to 10 yards from his position on the defensive line and get involved in pass coverage by attempting to shut down the short passing game. The defensive end will try to get in the passing lanes to knock down a short- or intermediate-range pass. The linebacker is regularly involved in pass coverage. He will be asked to cover opposing running backs or the tight end in pass coverage. He might be able to deflect the pass, intercept the pass or tackle the opponent after the reception is made.
The linebacker usually takes more of a leadership role in the team's defense. Because the linebacker has more duties and makes plays all over the field, he often calls the plays in the defensive huddle and gives players specific assignments before the ball is snapped. Linebackers regularly serve as defensive captains on the field; defensive ends rarely have that responsibility.
Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Deacon Jones and Richard Dent are all hall of famers who were among the best defensive ends in pro football history. Dick Butkus, Ray Lewis, Lawrence Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Chuck Bednarik are hall of famers who were among the best linebackers in pro football history. All of these players were noted for their athletic ability, strength and toughness.
- Play Football the NFL Way: Tom Bass
- Inside the Helmet: Peter King
- NFL Record and Fact Book: NFL Publishing