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Linebacker Play: The MLB in the Over or Even Fronts

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We've now talked about the fundamentals to play linebacker and discussed the reads for linemen and backs, and the coverage responsibilities were highlighted before.  We aren't planning on doing the two-gap techniques of the inside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme, but the MLB in the Over front is a bit more unique than the one that we play at Clemson. FSU, Miami, UNC and Auburn on the schedule all use the Over front and for a refresher of what it is, see this previous post.

To play the Over, you need to recruit only one "true" linebacker, the Mike. Everyone else was converted from the position they played in HS. How many good LBs can you think of that played for the guys mentioned above? They were usually MLBs. You play your best LB at the Mike, who is protected by the NG, and he can make plays all day unless the NG is awful. The NG and 3-technique must still be able to handle a double-team to keep the LB free.

Incidentally, this type of 2-gap player is almost exactly the same as what the old great LBs played, even in the 5-2 or Wide Tackle 6, long before the 4-3 regained popularlity with the Jimmy Johnson Miami and Cowboys teams.

The textbook Over front, the 3 is aligned to the TE side, and SAM is moved back from the LOS


In this front the MLB is aligned behind the NG in a 00 alignment, but he may need to offset himself (to 10) to get a key read on a RB. In most cases, the MLB with this kind of front has to play a RB key. So if the coach wants it to be simple, he basically just tells the LB to charge the A-gap strongside when the ball goes strong, and press the B-gap weakside when the ball goes weak. Thats all he has to learn when he reads run, and its something that you can easily teach in Pony or even up to HS. Its also something that is easy to teach when you play multiple fronts. You cannot drill everything for every front the defense learns in August, so giving them a simple read for a front they may play just 10x in a game is advantageous. For teams in college and NFL who play this as the dominant front however, that kind of key read gets you into trouble. In those cases the MLB has to learn the same OL block reads but applied to the Center. For teams that play both Over and Under, teaching him just the Guard read can work.

Flow strongside - The MLB presses the A-gap if its open. If the gap is closed up, via stunting or blockers, he shuffles strongside and hits the first open gap. If its the FB on an isolation, he has to run right through him.



Flow weak - The MLB does the same thing, but for the weak B-gap.

For Center reads, the theme is the same as the Guard reads discussed earlier. Here the MLB should play more attention to the line splits -- when they are tight, he aligns himself closer to the LOS.  The one that the Center does a little differently is the block-back. This will be the toughest read to make. When the C blocks back, his eyes are on the nearest lineman. What must be done here by the MLB is to step forward to the side of the initial helmet movement, then look for the Guards. They will show a veer or pull. Then he has to shuffle and press the open gap.


An inside trap. The ball is meant to go up the gut and can be run tighter or right at the 3. The 3 should step down the LOS and the MLB comes around behind him.


Basic sweep blocking. The center blocks back on the 2i and MIKE steps initially with him, then attacks the strong A.

However he can also pull out on the various forms of the sweep that teams like to use in the spread. In the below clip of Clemson vs. NTexas, you can watch the LB reacting to the Center pull and he shuffles as he is supposed to, but doesn't get into a gap.


NT is playing an EVEN front, and if this was the Over, the MLB would be looking for a Veer block from the RT attempting to seal him off or the WR attempting to crack him. In the above clip the DE is cracked and the playside OT pulls out and up with C and backside T pulling. In Even front stems and situations, the MLB often just plays both A-gaps, but that can vary with stunts that are common when aligning this way.


Center pulls out, MLB shuffles outside, expecting the OT to come off to seal him inside. He goes over the top and shadows the Center.

On pass plays, reading the Center is even easier than the Guard. You know instantly what the Center is doing.

A defining trait of the best MLBs in this type of front is their intensity. To play this type of scheme he does not have to be the fastest guy on the field, but he has to be the meanest. Ray Lewis is the best modern example of this position described above, but the technique that Judge Davis once played is not that dissimilar.