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!