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  1. The linebacker position -- specifically, the middle linebacker position is incredibly close to my heart. To me, and I will admit to being totally biased, it is THE position to play on defense. It's everything, because it encompassed every aspect of football from instincts, toughness, fundamentals, and intelligence. You gotta have it all to play middle linebacker. Part pass rusher, part defensive back, and all man. Everything flows through him. In short, your defense will look like your middle linebacker. Now has anyone ever watched a linebacker during the play and wondered how or why he's doing what he's doing? How he knows if it's run or pass, or which gap to hit? If you haven't, I'd like to apologize for "click-baiting" you. The rest of this probably won't be that interesting. If you have, stick around. The answer is "keys". KEYS: Every front seven defender has a specific offensive key on every play of the game, and it's going to tell him run or pass. It's going to tell him which way the run is going, and what type of run. Is it a power, a trap, a zone, a dive, sweep, draw, option? The keys give away everything. He's got to be able to read his key, then in a split second, decipher all of that information, and react. He's got to keep his shoulders square to the line while he stays low and scrapes to his gap. Somewhere along the line he's gonna have to take on and shed a block with the proper technique, then find the ball again... Now I want to look at this specifically through the eyes of young Deion Jones. As a Middle Linebacker, your key can get a bit convoluted, so stay with me. As a middle linebacker you are reading the triangle. This right here is the triangle... You're reading both offensive guards, THROUGH to the backfield. Now different coaches teach different keys; sometimes your keys change based on front. For example, in an Under your key may be the nearest back. It could be a single guard THROUGH to the backfield, but for the purposes of this I'm going to try to keep it elementary. You get the idea, though from this. The linebacker has to eliminate every other bit of information outside of that triangle (even the QB). He can't worry about anything outside of the triangle because that's how you get tricked. The quarterback could reverse pivot and get you to false step in the wrong direction (happened in the Eagle game). He could play-action to get you to step up like a run. The fullback could go one way while the run is going the other. Offensive coaches spend their lives trying to muddy keys. This is why eye discipline is as important an aspect to playing linebacker as anything. And this is why I like the triangle read, because it's tough to get fooled when you've got it down. Quarterbacks can lie to you. Backs can lie to you... those guards can't. Those guards will give away the play 90% of the time. 2nd and 5 - 3rd Quarter Falcons are in nickel vs. Cardinals 11 personnel. Over front. Deion Jones circled reading the two guards through to the backfield. Zone steps by the guards signal a run. This is what linebackers look for. If the guards pop up and start retreating, it's a pass set. If they come out low and fire out, it's a run. From there you have to determine the type of block to determine the type of run. If the guard pulls, it's a power, or counter. If he goes sprinting to the perimeter, it's a sweep. Here the guards and center fire out an angle (usually 45 degrees) -- this signals a zone run. Deion reads it immediately and knows instantly where the run is trying to hit. Beautiful, explosive movement downhill to the gap... and a nice angle. Does a good job keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. They are turned a little bit, but for this type of run and the scrape that's needed you'll allow for that. Good job of breaking down in the hole and getting low... getting ready to fire his hips and explode on contact. And a gorgeous form tackle finishes Johnson off. He's out a little more over his toes that I'd like, but he's exploding into the back with everything he's got, and he's done a beautiful job of getting low. Low man wins in this sport and he's right underneath the runner's chest. Not an easy thing to do. I know. My knees don't quite bend like that anymore. Also, a shout-out to Grady who came off his block and got him a nice piece, too. Here's what it looks like in full speed. You hear defensive coaches all the time talk about "playing with your eyes"... this is exactly what they are talking about. This is why I wasn't worried that Arizona would run all over the Falcons despite how ugly it got in Philly. I could see the mistakes they made in that game with their eyes, which led to bad fits and poor angles. All of it, fixable. The young linebackers are starting to play with more confidence. They're trusting what they're seeing and they're letting it fly. Slowly, but surely they are turning the corner. To steal a phrase from an old Falcon coach, "the arrow is pointing up".
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