what does linebacker do in football

What Does Linebacker Do In Football

A linebacker is one of the many positions in football. In the NFL, a linebacker is one of the most exciting positions. That has been the case for over 100 years. But it’s a confusing position that most fans don’t understand.

So what does linebacker do in football? A linebacker is a position making part of the defense and with the sole responsibility of stopping the offense. Linebackers line behind the defensive linemen hence the name linebacker. They tackle running backs and stop wide receivers from catching passes.

If you love American football, you must know line backers’ important role. This is a football game’s most exciting, versatile, and important position.

Join me as I dig deep into this position and why linebackers are important in the game of football.

What Is A Linebacker In Football 

A linebacker in football is a defensive position lining just behind the defensive lineman. It’s a pretty versatile position with a big role in stopping the offense.

This is a jack of all trades position. A linebacker will perform a lot more than stopping the offense. They need to prevent opposing players from receiving passes.

Depending on the play, a linebacker can perform various roles. Depending on the defensive formation, the linebacker position will have 3 or 4 players.

Overall, a linebacker position is a critical position that requires intelligence and discipline.

What Are The Roles and Responsibilities of A Linebacker?

Now that you know about linebackers let’s dig deep and see their major roles and responsibilities. Below are some key responsibilities of linebackers:

Stopping the offense

The linebacker’s main responsibility in a football game is to stop runs. It’s a special position in the defense, just behind the defensive linemen. The position gives them a great chance of getting the first hit of the running backs.

running back escaping a defensive tackle

You’ll often see them trying to track where running backs come from. As the running backs come through the line, they will try and tackle him.

In a running play, the linebackers will always lead the team in the number of tackles. This is because they have a bigger presence in the running game, initiating most of the tackles.


Apart from stopping the offense, linebackers participate in blitzing the quarterback. They will run at the quarterback and try tackling him before he can make a pass.

However, it’s not a big role as compared to defensive responsibilities. Occasionally, you’ll see linebackers blitz depending on the play.

Pass coverage

Linebackers also play a crucial role in providing pass coverage. The linebacker will take a zone position on the field in such cases.

Linebackers will prevent and protect passes coming to wide receivers in their specific zones. They can also provide man coverage depending on the opposition.

A linebacker will cover against running backs and tight ends in such cases. They usually cover short and intermediate passes to tight ends and running backs.

Different Types Of Linebackers

As I mentioned earlier, there are usually three to four linebackers in a football game. These linebackers can be divided into the middle and outside linebackers.

Middle Linebacker

First is the middle linebacker, which is usually the quarterback of the defense. He is usually called ‘Mike’ and plays a crucial role in receiving and relaying the play calls.

In an NFL game, every play in the defense is received and relayed by Mike. He usually wears an electronic helmet from which the receivers play calls from the coaches.

The middle linebacker can also start a blitz. Simply put, he is a jack of all trades in the defense. He can also provide pass coverage and try prying information from the quarterback when using the Tampa 2 defense.

But in command defenses, a middle linebacker leads the team in tackles. In plays with two middle linebackers, the term outside linebacker can be used interchangeably.

Outside Linebacker

Next, we have the outside linebackers. They line on the sides and help provide containment. Outside linebackers can also help in blitzing the quarterback. 

Designated as OLB, the position is further classified into two. These are the strong side and weak side linebackers.

Strongside Linebacker

First is the strong side linebacker, commonly referred to as Sam. Sam is responsible for calling the blitz.

A strong side linebacker lines directly facing the tight end. It is the side that faces more offense from the opposing team. The strong side linebacker usually tackles the running back as they follow the tight end’s block.

Strong side linebackers are among the strongest and biggest players on the field. He can fight blocks, prevent passes, and shed off running backs. 

These unique responsibilities mean a strong side linebacker should be fast and intelligent enough to read and cover zone situations. In most plays, the strong side linebacker is the left outside linebacker.

Weakside Linebacker

The weakside linebacker is called ‘Will’ and is usually the fastest man of the three linebackers. In most plays, Will provides pass coverage.

The main responsibility is to chase play from the outside. This means a weak side linebacker must be agile with the ability to maneuver through tight spaces.

Standing at the same width as Mike, Will lines at the line of scrimmage and faces a large interior lineman. He is responsible for covering any attacks on his side.

What Makes A Good Linebacker

Linebackers need certain attributes to perform their roles perfectly.

linebacker roles

Body Type – Average Height & Weight

The ideal body type for linebackers is big and strong. Some of the best linebackers are tall, big, and hard-hitting. Generally, you need big linebackers if they are going to make a difference.

The ideal body type is one with huge muscles and first-twitch fibers. These fibers are necessary if linebackers are to go through explosive bursts.

Concerning average body type and weight, the ideal linebacker should be 6’1″ to 6’3″ and with a weight of 220 to 245 pounds.


Linebackers also require specific skills that make them good at what they do. First, you need them to have great speeds. Since they have to provide coverage, linebackers need to be fast.

They face running backs known to have some of the best speeds in the NFL. A great linebacker can only become good at what he does by running fast and competing with running backs.

Apart from good speed, linebackers need to have excellent tackling skills. This is because they will rough up players and try to bring them to the ground. It’s a necessary skill, especially when facing shorter running backs.

Good Vision

Having a great vision and recognizing play is one of the best attributes of a good linebacker. Recognizing play and good vision work hand-in-hand to ensure linebackers are at the right positions.

With good vision, a linebacker can see sideline to sideline. This gives him a good understanding of how play develops.

Good vision allows you to know the position the team is in and if there are any mismatches. Some of the best linebackers can recognize team weaknesses and where play starts.

Overall, an expansive vision of the field and understanding where the ball will end up is crucial. Linebackers need to ask important questions that make them understand the offense better.


As we saw earlier, linebackers are the quarterbacks of the defense. They receive play calls and relay the same to the rest of the defense. This requires special leadership skills.

Excellent communication is needed to relay the correct information. Overall, linebackers need to know how to do things correctly without being asked to do so.

Famous NFL Linebackers

The NFL has produced some of the greatest linebackers in history. Below, I will look at some of the famous NFL linebackers.

  • Lawrence Taylor – 10-Time All-Pro playing for the New York Giants from 1981 to 1993
  • Ray Lewis – Another 10-Time All-Pro playing for the Baltimore Ravens from 1996 to 2012
  • Dick Butkus – 8-Time-All-pro for the Chicago from 1965 to 1973
  • Jack Lambert – Is an 8-Time-All-Pro playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1974 to 1984
  • Mike Singletary– Is a 9-Time-All-Pro playing for Chicago from 1981 to 1982.
  • Derrick Thomas – 6-Time-All-Pro playing for Kansas City from 1989 to 1999.

According to Athlon Sports, the list above is a few of the most famous linebackers in the NFL. 

Who Is The Best NFL Linebacker Of All Time

There can be no argument that Lawrance Taylor is the all-time best NFL linebacker with amazing statistics. While there are several great NFL linebackers, Lawrence Taylor tops the list as the greatest of them all.

american football player with arms raised on a white background

With 10 Pro Bowls and two-time Super Bowls, Taylor is regarded as the best-ever NFL linebacker.

How Important Is a Linebacker in Football

The linebacker position in football is very important, playing a crucial role in the defense. It is tasked with the main responsibility of stopping the opposition offense, providing pass coverage, and making blitzes when necessary.

The position plays a critical part in the defense by making play calls. The middle linebacker receivers play calls from the sidelines and pass the same to the rest of the players. This shows how critical their roles are at ensuring the opposition doesn’t succeed at making runs.

Are Linebacker and Lineman The Same Thing?

A linebacker and lineman in American football are different. Linebackers line slightly behind linemen and rely on their ability to draw blockers to them.

Linemen are usually the first line of defense, followed by linebackers. They line up 3 to 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

How Do Linebackers Get So Big?

Linebackers get so big because they need to shed offensive blocks from the offensive lineman. They can only shed blocks when they have big body sizes.

It’s worth noting that offensive linemen are very big players on the field. So if the linebackers are not big enough, they cannot shed them or provide any coverage.

Offensive linemen will always have a power and size advantage against small linebackers.

How Many Linemen Are There In A Game

In the game of football, there are usually five offensive linemen. Most formations will have two tackles, two guards, and one center. The main role of the offensive linemen is to block the player with the ball.


Linebackers are a great part of the football defense. It’s a crucial position just behind the defensive lineman with a big role in stopping the offense, providing pass coverage, and occasionally blitzing.

To be a linebacker in football is not easy, with the position requiring certain attributes. Players must have a big body size, good vision, speed, intelligence, and excellent leadership qualities.

Overall, a linebacker position is very important and one that calls plays in the game. They generally provide extra run coverage in the defense, with roles changing depending on the opposition play.

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