See How Read Progression Starts With the Triangle Concept in Football

Teaching a linebacker this basic defense tactic is extremely easy. RichVintage / Getty Images

While qualities such as size, speed, toughness, and good tackling technique are skills all coaches desire for their linebackers, no attribute is as important as the ability to find the football quickly and be a part of every play. The purpose of a linebacker (LB or backer) is to help the defensive team. In football formation, linebackers line up about three to five yards behind the line of scrimmage and back up the line.

As they line up behind the defensive lineman, their mission is to read plays quickly and be able to react fast, in order for them to tackle from the perfect position. Linebackers also participate in communicating to the rest of the defense team and guide them on what is happening with the offense during the game. The best linebackers are versatile, athletic, alert, and instinctive.

Benefits of a Good Stance

Having a good stance is important for linebackers, as it helps take away any extra movements that prevent them from moving faster. Balanced stances include feet that are shoulder-width apart. Additionally, knees and hips should be bent at a 90-degree angle with the head up and the back straight. Linebackers can also learn to concentrate better on the field by letting their arms hang loose and keeping their fingers free to wiggle.

How to Read the Triangle

Most linebackers use a triangle key at the college and professional level.

This means that they watch three things at the same time: a lineman, the closest running back, and the quarterback.

The triangle concept allows linebackers to quickly read offensive keys which will take them to the football, and it starts with the snap of the ball. The linebacker read progression cannot begin without the football being snapped.

Coaches should encourage their linebackers to use peripheral vision, so they can watch the ball without focusing on the center. At the snap, linebackers should use the following four tips.

1.  Read the Guard

  • Is he firing out?
  • Is he pulling for a trap or sweep?
  • Is he down blocking?
  • Is he pass blocking?

2. Read the Nearest Running Back

  • Is the fullback lead blocking?
  • Is the tailback running wide for a pitch?
  • Is the running back behind the quarterback? With this one, think run/play-action pass.

3. Read the Quarterback

  • 3-Step Drop: Quick passes such as slants, outs, tight end over the middle.
  • 5-Step Drop: Mid-to-deep passes such as comebacks, hitch, and corner routes.

4. Reading the Linemen Pad Levels

  • Low Pad: Running play
  • High Pad: Running back behind quarterback (play-action pass/draw play)
  • High Pad: No running backs behind quarterback (pass)

Coaching Highlights and Tips

Constantly remind linebackers to watch for crackback blocks from wide receivers, or tackles and tight ends reaching the second level to block them. Additionally, linebackers must know down-and-distance, which likely includes runs or passes. It's also important to teach linebackers a run-first mentality, and not to drop into pass coverage too early.