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The Non Numeric Evaluation: Inside Linebacker

Discussion in 'Patriots Draft Talk' started by jays52, Mar 19, 2009.

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  1. jays52

    jays52 Rookie

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    In the midst of the patsfans draft buzz, a premium is being placed on measurables. 40's, verts, broads, shuttles, 3-cones and bench reps are all referenced as ways of evaluating a player. While for the most part it is highly valuable for us fans, it plays a minimal role in looking at a player. I understand the value of the numeric evaluations yet at the same time, I see far too many perspectives skewed by them. I see the value in a player as something that cannot be quantified. There are many attributes that cannot be measured in colloquial tests. So, because of this, I am going to write a little bit on what I think makes a football player. I think I'm going to get into this as a week by week thing, so please share your thoughts and criticisms! First, let's take a look at the position I know the best; inside linebacker.

    When I think of the word linebacker, I think of leadership. I'm not looking for a ra-ra guy or a big mouth, I'm looking for a guy that leads by example. I'm looking for a guy who improves game to game. I'm looking for a guy who knows the 10 other assignments in the play. I'm looking for the guy who knows how to watch film. Linebackers need to take their title of linebacker as an honor. To play with a sense of purpose, honoring those that came before them in the way that they play. They need to take football very, very seriously. Of course, this is hard to judge just by watching the guy play, but if you look closely, you will see the traits. The following is a short list of cues to look for:

    1) Does the defense play better as a unit when he is on the field?
    2) Is he ever out of position?
    3) Does he play with a fire, a visceral intensity?
    4) Does he make audibles from his stance?
    5) Does he have the respect of his opponent?

    After leadership, a linebacker needs to have very fast feet and premium acceleration. These combine to create functional playing speed inside the box. A linebacker is never going to run any distance in timed drill form. Never does a good linebacker break technique. In fact, some of the best linebackers had pretty bad measurable times due to the fact that they are uncomfortable playing out of their normal body positioning. Further, if a linebacker moves more than 10 yards in a down, the defense has given up a big play. When you evaluate a linebacker's functional playing speed several things are taken into account.

    1) Hip fluidity and footspeed. This is the most important attribute for any defensive football player playing out of a two point stance. It dictates how quickly the player can change directions. When a linebacker is set in his stance, his shoulders are over his feet, his back is flat, his head is alert and on a swivel. Most importantly, the weight of the player is on the balls of his feet. This allows the player to carry momentum into the intial step. If the read is not a direct drive to the gap immediately in front of him, he must pivot his hips and either scrape down the line, drop to his hook to flat, or pickup his man assignment. This move requires fluid hips to change directions and execute the assignment within the speed of the play. When covering the pass, the linebacker needs fast feet to react when in a zone and combine hip fluidity with footspeed when in man coverage.

    2) Three step acceleration. The most important attribute when defending the run or rushing the passer. Let's look at a very basic example of defending the run from the linebacker position out of the 3-4. The offensive play is a HB iso out of the I formation. In this play, the playside guard downblocks on the NT and the fullback leads through the hole to kickout the playside blocker. The halfback reads the hip of the fullback and explodes through the crease. The responsibility of the linebacker is to prevent the tailback from passing the LOS, or at the very least deny control of his outside shoulder. The sequence starts when the ball is snapped and the guard downblocks on the NT. The linebacker's first read is the head-up guard. The linebacker reads this block, immediately looks to the fullback now leaving his stance and staring at him. The linebacker carries his momentum out of his stance, plants and drives hard for the A Gap. The linebacker must reach the LOS before the fullback does. He must reach optimum velocity inside of two steps. His third is his impact step. Leading into impact, the linebacker coils, gets his pad height lower that that of the blocker and places his facemask into the breastplate of the blocker. Then, firing through his quads, glutes, calves, hips and lower back; the linebacker explodes through the blocker. It is imperative that the linebacker wins the leverage and momentum battle. He must stand the fullback straight up, extend the fullback and look for the halfback. If the halfback is looking for the outside move, he must either shed the blocker and meet the back in the hole or drive the fullback into the tailback's lane. While this is a very basic example, it does a good job of illustrating how important three step quickness is for defending the run.

    Another application of three step acceleration in the rushing game is on outside runs. A basic example is defending a basic counter. Counters are easily read by linebackers consequently, they are also excellent setups for misdirection plays, but I digress. The counter essentially has three components. 1) A jab step by the halfback to the backside of the play 2) The backside guard pulling and 3) The playside TE/Slot and tackle downblocking. When the linebacker reads the pull, he is coached to follow the pull. The linebacker plants and accelerates in the direction of the pull. He will read the downblocks out of his peripheral and immediately recognize the counter. He must first scrape through the trash, taking a valid angle to the ball carrier's intersection with the LOS. This starts as an angled half sprint to the intersection point. The linebacker must then look for the seam. All blocking creates seams. Both intentionally for the ball carrier and unintentionally for the defender. When this daylight opens, the linebacker must hit the seam, identify the ball carrier and arrive with violence. Again, this is three steps to the football. It's commonly refered to as closing speed and is critical to playing linebacker effectively.

    3) Functional playing strength. Look at Rodney Harrison for an example. He's not the size of Ted Johnson, but when he was in his prime, he would ahniliate guards and tackles. Functional playing strength is the result of hip strength, core strength, explosion and form. Linebacker is all about delivering blows to deaden momentum. When a player is square to an opponent, he must not give space. Running plays are designed to create space and negate defenders. If players do not give ground and are able to drive blockers into their designed seams, they become highly effective at defending the run. Watch how low a player stays when they engage a blocker. Whos head is knocked back on impact? Who wins the momentum battle? How low does the linebacker stay when he delivers initial contact? All of these play into functional playing strength.

    Finally, and arguably most important is the vision of the player. Linebacker is quarterback with a set. You must read the offense, diagnose the play, identify the design of the play, identify the seams, identify misdirection, be aware of picks, be aware of screens, draws and play actions. A linebacker must be bright enough to analyze and act upon the stimuli in such a quick movement. The best way to identify this is how often the player is around the football when the play is over. Does his jersey repeatedly show up near the football? Any athlete can make a highlight hit, pick or sack, the true test of a linebacker is how frequently his number is within striking distance of the football when the play is over.

    Well, my fingers hurt and my brain is starting to turn to mush. Hope you could get something from my ramblings and if there are any questions, comments or criticisms, please bring them!
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2009
  2. patchick

    patchick Moderatrix Staff Member PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I understand where you're coming from, but I think ILB is one position where this board as a whole doesn't go whole-hog for measurables. The OLB discussion is dominated by talk of size and athleticism, but the ILB debate is all about whether players like Maualuga & Laurinaitis are effective at taking on OLs and fighting through trash or prefer roaming sideline to sideline.

    Also, I'd argue that the key quality you're looking for...

    ...isn't really that rare. It's finding it in an NFL body that's the hard part.
  3. spann31

    spann31 Rookie

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    this must of taken you 3 days to write
  4. Ochmed Jones

    Ochmed Jones Rookie

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    While your list of attributes is very lengthy and probably describes a lot of LBers for 4-3 teams, it isn't necessarily what I would describe 3-4 ILB's in the BB defense as needing.

    Fluid hips are a great judge of athletism, but let's face it outside of Phifer and Mayo, none of the Pats ILB's have/had very fluid hips. Fluid hips do nothing to help a Pats ILB stack and shed a 340 pound OG running downhill at you.

    The list of characteristics I think the Pats look for in an ILB are as follows:

    1.) Instincts - knowing where the ball is going before the snap makes you faster.
    2.) Tackling - taking on blockers, sinking the hips, sheding, wrapping up and bringing guys to the ground.
    3.) Ball Skills - When in coverage you have to be able to find the ball and break on the ball.
  5. jays52

    jays52 Rookie

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    Totally valid points. Towards the ILB factor, I was more so just beginning a series of write-ups that are sure to garner criticism. I'm looking forward to the OLB schtuff. Fully agree that the leadership in an NFL body is a difficult one. This is why I place such a premium on it.
  6. jays52

    jays52 Rookie

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    Nah, more like 45 minutes. Just bangin the laptop while I watched a little History Chanel.
  7. spann31

    spann31 Rookie

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    so who from the draft fits these qualities the best, Maluga?
  8. jays52

    jays52 Rookie

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    Respectfully, stiff hips get you in trouble as a three down player regardless of scheme. Further, the 4-3 Mike is a totally different skill set than a guy playing inside in the 3-4. Much more of a persuit guy than an angle guy. Note how it was geared to explosion, not flowing to the football. I understand what I wrote was lengthy, but take the time to read it and understand the thought process. I wrote about the importance of explosion and three step quickness as an effective guage of functional playing strength. Also, a 340lb guard ain't going to reach anyone that quickly, but explosive hips are what is going to get that monster off of you.

    Instincts are a myth. It's the ability to process information quickly combined with film study and football IQ. No one is going to sense something out of the cosmos, it's through awareness and preperation. If you are going to play D1 middle or inside linebacker, tackling is a requisate. If we're going to do a deep dive on a player, shouldn't tackling be a requisate for interest? Breaking on the ball in zone is a function of reading the blocking scheme and the hitch step of the QB as you read the releases of the reciever. Ball skills are the ability to play the ball when contending for it with a reciever.
  9. jays52

    jays52 Rookie

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    I actually don't like Maualuga for the Pats. He just doesn't seem to have the intelligence or the other intangibles in order to play in this scheme. Plug him into a simple scheme like SD or Dallas or a persuit based 4-3 and I think he'll be a good fit.

    I'm pretty high on Jason Phillips. I think he's a really impressive player and a pretty safe pick as well. I'm probably going to get murdered for this, but I like Larry English as well for an inside guy.
  10. mayoclinic

    mayoclinic PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I like Jason Phillips as a 2nd day guy - coaches son, good character, tough hard-nosed kid. And I also like Larry English much more as an SILB prospect than I do as an OLB. He was slow at the combine, and to me he looks slow on film. I'm just not sold on him as a 3-4 OLB.
  11. Box_O_Rocks

    Box_O_Rocks PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Funny you should mention Jason, it took me setting down the NFL Draft Scout profile points for a majority of the prospects in the height/weight profile I use, seasoned with my own observations from games, to finally pull his name out of the hat as my #1 ILB choice for this draft after initially leaning towards Clint Sintim and pondering Larry E.

    Have you had any chance to watch Robert Francois (BC) or Mike Rivera (Kansas)? One other who's just a bit lighter than I'd like, but played like your profile above, was Anthony Felder (Cal)...

    Enjoyable read, I can't wait for the hair pulling in the next installment!
  12. c_nice_37

    c_nice_37 Rookie

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    Is that like a vintage perfume?
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2009
  13. c_nice_37

    c_nice_37 Rookie

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    Jays52...

    That was a good read. I encourage all to read the whole post, especially #2 detailing the reads and importance of the first 3 steps.

    It's interesting that there is no 'measurable' for this, as it is timing based and strength based. I can see a LB in his pre-snap stance, burst out of his stance, and hit a tackling dummy that can measure the blow strength and of course some time measure. Sounds feasible, and I would think that this is much more important than the bench press or 10yd split.

    Keep them coming, I don't know if I can wait a week. Good stuff man.
  14. dryheat44

    dryheat44 Rookie

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    #75 Jersey

    I still like Jasper Brinkley better than all of them....but I have Sintim on the Outside.
  15. Clonamery

    Clonamery PatsFans.com Supporter PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Curious statement....
  16. dryheat44

    dryheat44 Rookie

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    Especially when followed by "It's the ability to process information quickly..."

    In other words, "Instincts are a myth. Here's what instincts really are, which is probably pretty close to the Webster's definition of instinct."
  17. PatsandTrojans55

    PatsandTrojans55 Rookie

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    Good write-up Jay but if I may offer some friendly advice. When talking about a players intellect you should be very careful as to the way you present the information. Too many times the emotional fan comes out of people and they tend to discredit a certain player as to make their favorite the end all be all best player for the Patriots. If you have never talked to or watch film with these players it's very juvenile to insinuate their level of intellect. I could tell you the football intellect level of many of these players including Rey and he is a fine young man with a very good football IQ.

    I have listened to alot of fan talk on this board and ANYBODY who thinks the Patriots wouldn't love to plug Rey next to Mayo yesterday or questions whether the Pats believe he "fits" their defensive scheme, I just laugh silently, shake my head and realize that it's an emotional fan thing.

    I could give out some facts about the Pats feelings about about all 5 SC LBers among others but I decided this year to just lay low because people last year just like to argue with you about your information even though last year I was spot on and gave everybody the information on average 3 days ahead of the press releases. I challenged anybody to prove me wrong and got no responses. So I'm just enjoying this year.

    PT55
  18. Synovia

    Synovia Rookie

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    Instincts aren't "sensing something out of the cosmos", they're about your body reacting before you front-brain has a chance to process. Instincts most certainly do affect players.
  19. Synovia

    Synovia Rookie

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    Maybe you should take your own advice. Maybe your insistance that he fits is
    "an emotional fan thing".


    I've got a good friend who just finished Grad School two years ago or so at USC. RAVED about Oscar Lua. "Next Lofa Tatupu" etc. Pats should take him early. How'd that turn out?
  20. PatsandTrojans55

    PatsandTrojans55 Rookie

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    If you know my post history then you would realize that I'm quite the opposite of the emotional fan. In fact, I didn't bring up Rey at all, I'm just clearing up some mis-information.

    Also, I would have never made that comparison between those two players because they are light years apart and if anybody studied the film for more than 5 minutes could tell you that.

    PT55
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2009
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