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Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is a future Hall of Fame linebacker that talks the talk and walks the walk.
Why It’s Tough
Linebackers have to be skilled in several areas: tackling, pursuing, containing, defending the pass, stopping the run, sacking the quarterback, and setting up the defense while predicting which play the offense will run.
Linebackers have to clean up everything that the defensive linemen miss and also help defensive backs in pass coverage.
A running back squeezes through a gap? Seek a linebacker.
A quarterback is running outside of the pocket? Find a linebacker to bring the QB to a crushing halt.
Are there too many short passes over the middle? Not for long once a good linebacker takes the field.
Great defenses—like the Steelers in the ‘70s, the Bears in the ‘80s, and the Ravens and Steelers in the ‘00s—always feature excellent linebackers.
Why It’s Not So Tough
Linebackers can freely pursue the ball carrier before making contact with an offensive lineman, while defensive ends and defensive tackles will endure contact on nearly every play.
Often out-of-position linebackers make mistakes that are unfairly attributed to cornerbacks and safeties.
With 3-4 defenses, 4-3 defenses, prevent defenses, and nickel and dime packages, linebackers aren’t as versatile as in times past.
There are plenty of specialists: Outside linebackers that often line up in a three-point stance and function more like defensive ends; inside linebackers that enter the game for pass coverage; and linebackers that only play in either running or passing situations.