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Coaching Outside Linebackers
The most difficult position on the field for most defenses is outside linebacker. In a typical 8-man front, such as a 3-5-3 or 4-2-5 defense, these players have dual responsibilities.
The outside linebacker is primarily responsible for containing the run, forcing the ball carrier to drop back inside on sideline runs. He can also force the ball carrier to bubble and work side to side, allowing the chase to help out there.
The second responsibility for the OLB is to cover the flats in the pass. Typically, 8-man fronts run Cover 3 as their primary coverage.
Most defensive coordinators use a mixture of zone and man coverage. The OLB usually blocks on the #2 Receiver next to him in Cover 1 or Cover 0, the slot, or the Tight End. When a player is blocked in man coverage, he cannot be considered part of the run defense.
The outside linebacker’s alignment depends on your defense and his abilities. Typically, he will be 3-5 yards outside the End Man at the Line of scrimmage (EMOLS) and 2-5 yards beyond the Line of scrimmage (LOS).
If a #2 receiver is available, the OLB typically uses a peak alignment, 5 yards away from the ball and halfway between the EMOLS and the slot. Depending on the team and the slot ability, you can choose to move him closer to the slot to stop the pass or to EMOLS harder to help in the run game.
Keys and reactions
The primary OLB key is the EMOLS, a resistance or narrow, to read the high and low hats. The High Hat, meaning the OT’s helmet as seen in the pass kit, tells him the play is a pass and he should open to the flats (but this is dictated by the coverage call). Reading in the low hat, when the OT fires with a flat back, he guesses the run. The OLB should consider running if he reads a certain high pass.
You can help OLB get his reading done by watching the EMOLS film he will be reading. Different teams use different methods to pass and block the run.
After reading the low hat, the OLB checks its secondary key – return. He needs to attack the proper run with run block reads and backfield action:
EMOLS block hard down inside, RB to you: Attack the line of scrimmage to replace EMOLS. Expect a hit block from the RB or guard. Grab it with your inside arm, keep your outside leg free, and straighten your shoulders. Narrow the running lane inside and be ready to absorb the ball carrier’s impact outside.
EMOLS Drive Blocks Defensive End, RB to you: Move up and inside, but don’t cover the line of scrimmage. Hold the outside gear until the RB announces inside, then roll into it to grapple. If he bounces out, box the game.
EMOLS get to you, RB flows quickly outside you: Attack the line of scrimmage but keep your width. If you have a #2 receiver, decide if you can beat him to the point of attack or if you have to beat his block. If you must beat his block, pass him, turn him around and work to the outside of him to cover the play.
EMOLS zone or move away from you, Backfield moves away: keep your depth, cover inside to stack Defensive End. Check the Counter, Reverse, Bootleg operation and be ready for a comeback. Don’t pass the defense until the ball is away from you.
Play Action Pass can put a lot of pressure on your backers. If the OLB reads the run, he has to attack because he is the first player. But when he catches the pass, usually with a secondary key action, he has to break it to get back into the pass coverage zone. Never stop playing!
Coaching Outside Linebackers
The individual techniques required for an OLB are similar to any defensive player. They must be able to read their key and react, beat the block, shoot, pass and create turnovers. All these skills should be practiced in a set of 5 daily exercises if time allows. Add in other exercises to work on your weaknesses.
Teamwork is essential to understanding your role outside of Linebacker. He will work with safeties, corners, defensive ends and inside routes. Set up weekly team drills that allow him to see his role on defense with each of these groups. Make sure the group exercises are appropriate for the competition you face that week.
Understand which offensive coordinators will choose your outside linebacker. They are players who easily get into conflict. Bullying schemes try to frustrate him and make him second-guess himself.
Your outside linebackers will make mistakes! Teach them to trust their keys, play physical and always be able to run to the football to have the best OLB game.
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