To make the Under work, a good SAM linebacker is crucial. The best ones are truly freak athletes with great ball skills, capable of dropping into coverage without looking awkward, and yet be strong enough to handle one-on-one blocks from Tackles and TEs every down. As such, to see a freshman excel here is uncommon. Because of the unique job of this position, and the amount he has to learn, blitzing from here is not as prevalent as the other two LB positions in the Under.
Kevin Alexander was adequate in many phases of the scheme, but as a dropping LB he was insufficient. Quandon Christian has the ability to do everything here and do it well enough to take our linebacking corps to the next level.
There are actually two different types of players that play the SAM in the Under, and the scheme must adapt to each one. This type of player is also present in the 3-4 front, particularly the style where he's called a "drop" linebacker. The two alignments that are played here are the 7 (foot splits the TE's feet) and 9 (inside foot makes a line with the TE's outside foot). The guy who lines up in the 7 needs to be bigger and a physical defender, while the 9 is more of a finesse player. Alexander was a better 7 prototype than a 9, while RS freshman Christian was more suited to a 9 in his first year starting because of his lack of weight. His lack of weight and inexperience are also reasons why he was aligned back off the line of scrimmage.
Additionally, when considering the 7 vs. the 9, the outside run support must change. When the SLB is aligned in a 7, he has help outside from the Corner or Safety in the alley. When he is aligned in a 9, he is the outside man and he must force everything back inside.
Alignment & Assignment-
7 - SAM's inside foot splits the feet of the TE. His focus is on the screws of the helmet of the TE into the nearest RB. He keeps his hands at waist height to react to the coming block. He plays the blocker first before worrying about the RB.
His assignment is the gap outside the TE, but when the TE veers inside, he executes the block-down step down just like the DE would if the OT veered. He must protect the MIKE coming around in that case. His job against the option, should the team be in Under against option (they usually arent), is QB first then pitch. When the ball goes away from him, he squeezes inside and looks for counters and cutbacks.
9 - Aligned with his inside foot matching the outside foot of the TE. His focus and key is the same.
He plays more containment outside than the 7 when the TE blocks outside (reach or fan block). He must force the ball back inside. But when the TE veers inside, he does not have the job of protecting MIKE. He steps down the line but is not expected to block the release of the TE. Against the option, he reads the block to determine his responsibility: when the TE blocks him or veers, he takes QB first; when the TE arcs outside, he goes to the pitch back. When the ball goes away, his job is the same as the 7.
The OL keys are the same as before, but now applied to the TE and OT. Its imperative that the SAM not run away from blocks, doing so always opens a hole between the OT and TE. He must be an anchor on the edge.
Base block from TE - Offense likely to go inside the SAM, and the real threat to him is when its forced to bounce outside.
The 7 spends much more time with drilling this block than the 9. When the 7 faces it, he can squeeze and push off the TE with help outside from the DB. The 9 doesnt need to be an immovable object, but can't let the ball get wide of him. The 9 has DB support inside his position with the DE.
Reach block from TE - this one block illustrates the difference between a 7 and a 9 best. Reaches from the TE indicate the ball is going outside.
The 7 attacks the TE and tries to bulldoze him. He still has the outside gap so he wants to keep his outside arm free, but he knows he has help outside, so he can push the TE into the backfield and force the ball to bounce out to the safety coming up from behind.
The 7 squeezes the hole and pushes off, with help coming outside.
The 9 is the outside guy, so he cannot let the ball get outside of his position. When he sees the screws of the helmet turn out, he steps laterally just enough to keep his outside leverage, then crosses over and moves wider. He should back up no deeper than 2 yards and no wider than 2 yards. He knows his help is inside, so he forces it back in as the contain player. You want him to be physical, but its more important he contain the outside.
9 is the outside guy, and he works 2 yards wide and 2 yards depth, keeping his outside shoulder free. His job is to make the play outside or force inside to his help.
So you can see the need for two physical types of players here just because of this one block they face. The very best are capable of doing both. Younger or smaller players can play 9 as they grow, and when they aren't skilled at defeating the reach or recognizing blocks, the DC will often back them up 2-3 yards.
Inside/down block from TE - As stated above, when the TE releases inside or veers. This could indicate Power O is coming, or Counters and option plays.
Inside pass release will look the same initially, but the TE will stand up. When he's blocking, he'll stay lower. This is what the SAM looks for to decide run/pass.
On inside release, both types are told to squeeze the TE, but the 7 steps down the line and tries to protect the MLB. The 9 cannot protect him from his outer alignment while being the contain player. They both jam him and get square to the line of scrimmage and look for another blocker coming outside. They are executing the block-down step down rule, but the 9 can't be expected to do as good a job of it.
Versus the Power play, the TE would release inside or veer, with the Guard or FB/H coming outside to seal the hole for the RB. Normally it'll be the H-back or FB that hits the SAM while the Guard heads into the hole to hit another LB and clear the road. There are two methods of attacking here, squeeze or spill.
If he chooses to squeeze from the outside, he bulldozes the FB into the play with his inside shoulder. He keeps his outside shoulder free so he can push off to tackle the ballcarrier if he bounces. If he can take out the FB while able to handle a Guard, he can spill the play out by driving his outside shoulder into the FB, called wrong-arming. He inserts his body into the hole, which should take out both blockers with one defender, and keep someone else free to scrape around outside when the ball spills outside.
7 is spilling here, forcing the ball outside. He jams the TE hard to let the MLB get around unblocked easier. MIKE and the S fill their gaps to the outside to make the play.
When the MLB sees the SAM execute spill (and this isn't a decision he makes, its made in gameplanning by the DC or based on the scheme) then he knows he again has exchange of jobs with the SAM. SAM is taking the inside gap and MIKE must fill outside if SAM can handle the Guard, and the DB is coming in for more support. MIKE then has the job of the 7 or the 9 in the gap or as containment outside.
9 is squeezing the hole on this Power play by going outside and forcing inside.
On Guard or Tackle blocks, if he follows his fundamentals he should be fine. G Block would come on an outside trap or sweep play. In either case he squeeze the TE as he releases inside and plants his inside foot so he can set his base. When possible the 7 has to get into their faces before they gather any speed, but the 9 has to gain width without being driven backwards, so he can direct the ballcarrier back inside.
Reading Pass - As above, the TE will raise up when he releases for pass. Knowing how much he rises really comes down to maturity and film study of the LB.
As the SAM sees the head come up, he looks to the OT and if he takes a pass set while he jams the TE. In Man/Man, he'll have the TE and has to go with him up the seam or outside. If the TE goes inside, he can sometimes pass him off to the MIKE quickly without creating a problem for the coverage. In such a case, the SAM looks for the back and if he doesnt release, he becomes a Robber in MIKE's place.
In zone, the 9 has flat almost always. The 7 can have a restricted zone over the middle, Hook-to-Force. If he has Hook zone, one of the other linebackers will have to be given a larger zone to cover, so keep this in mind.
Arc Release - When the TE comes up out of his stance and heads outside the TE, but this can still be a block or a pass.
GT does this a lot, and it is why Clemson aligns the OLBs the way we do (but we dont use the Under LB alignment).
If you don't read it right, the TE (or WB in their case) can end up going right down the field uncovered. Remember some of those longer passes in the ACCCG? Against GT, the OLBs are usually looking for option, and hold position or come up, and the Wing releases in an arc and goes upfield untouched. He could also arc release and take out the CB in a block, as in the below play.
The SAM is supposed to engage and go with the release in this case until he can read run/pass. With the 7, the help is outside on the pitch option, and someone else will help inside on the QB. He can go with the TE until he reads run, then he becomes an alley defender. The 9, however, has pitch himself, and rides only for width then attacks pitch. With the 9, a safety will have the pass defense job.
What if there is no TE?
If the offense has the TE on the field but flexes him out or uses him in motion, the defense has to adjust. Usually the front gets checked off. You can go Over, or simply have the SAM walk out to a hip location 2x2 up and out from the tackle. In that case, his key shifts to the OT. It is far more likely to see SAM blitz from his position here.
If there is 2-deep behind him, you can widen him further, splitting the distance between the WR and OT or even putting him on the inside hip of the WR when this is in the boundary. Then you can drop the CB into a loose C2 position. That would keep the split end from being able to get leverage on an outside run and allow SAM to jam him if he releases inside, simultaneously giving the CB time to read the play.
When the TE flexes, SAM is usually walked out with inside leverage in pass coverage, and the other 6 guys do not always have to check to a new front.
This will be the last article on LB play for the time being, unless you have requests for things you'd like explained, and we'll now go into more offensive concepts.