One of the most critical, and difficult to coach, parts of playing linebacker is reading Guards to determine what the play will be. Many kids fall into the trap of watching the backfield and trying to tackle the guy with the ball. This works against bad offenses, but teams that have some degree of misdirection will exploit the linebackers for huge gains. The key is drilling your linebackers to read the Guards and trust that they will bring them to the ball.
Linebacker Read Drills for Youth Football
The Guard Read Drill is the perfect drill to practice this skill and can be done every day so the linebackers naturally read their guards without thinking. This drill requires two Linebackers, two Guards and two Running Backs. The linemen who are not going fill in as the Guards and Running Backs and then rotate. This drill can be tailored to fit both your defense and the offense that you will be going against. The other offensive line players will be simulated by cones.
For this drill the Guards and backfield can do four different things that the linebackers must respond to. The options are Trap, Iso, Pass or Sweep. On a Trap the playside guard will block down and the backside Guard will pull to kick a defensive lineman and the Fullback will run through the playside A Gap. For Iso the playside guard will block down and the backside guard will step to protect his gap while the backs will both run through the B gap with the Fullback leading the Tailback. On Pass the Guards will both step back and the backs will go out on a swing route in opposite directions. For sweep the Playside Guard will be pulling around and the Fullback will be leading the Tailback to the outside.
These plays should be tailored to fit your opponent. If the team you are playing against is more of a Wing-T team they might pull both Guards and the Fullback goes to the backside on Sweep. Other times teams run Iso as a FB play and have a Wing lead through the B gap. The specifics of who is doing what can change but the idea is for the Linebackers to group plays together that they will have the same response to.
The response by the Linebackers will be dictated by the play that they read from the Guards and the backfield. When they encounter a trap the playside linebacker will read a down block so he should step down into the B gap. The backside linebacker will read the pull and should follow the pull to the ball carrier. One thing he has to aware of is that the Guard will probably be trying to seal off his playside shoulder so he can’t get too far downhill.
When the Linebackers read that an Iso is coming at them they must prepare for a physical football play. In the Iso the FB will be leading directly up on the playside linebacker. The linebacker must come forward and collision the Fullback in the gap while keep his outside arm free. The backside linebacker should slowly come over and is responsible for any cutback. While the backside linebacker plays a critical role, it’s the front side linebacker stopping the Fullback in the hole that makes the defense successful on this play.
When the linebackers read pass they need to bail and get to their pass responsibilities. Depending on the defense and the coverage these pass responsibilities can vary so we won’t go into too much detail except to say that they should be looking to identify any potential receivers coming into their zone from the outside.
The final read is a sweep read. Whenever the linebackers read a sweep they want to follow the Guards to the playside. The playside linebacker will flow to the outside but must be careful not to get caught up in the wash of any double team that may be taking place on the edge. The backside guard will be coming through the playside A gap and pursuing the ball down the line of scrimmage to eliminate any potential cutback.
(See Also) Guide to Coaching Linebackers