Football Linebacker Types

Football Linebackers

What are Linebackers in Football?

Linebackers are important positions on every football team, as they block passes, make tackles, and blitz the quarterback, depending on the play. Linebackers are defensive backs that play between the defensive line and the secondary, a few yards back from the line of scrimmage. However, there are many specific linebacker positions that are dependent on the defensive scheme or shell.

An important thing to know when learning about linebacker types is that linebackers are often referred to by a first name that corresponds to their position. The most common position names are Mike for middle linebacker and Will and Sam for weak side and strong side linebacker, respectively.

4-3 Defense and 3-4 Defense

The 4-3 and 3-4 defenses are the two main defensive base systems that make use of linebackers. The 4-3 defense has four linemen on the line of scrimmage with three linebackers behind them. The 3-4 defense utilizes three defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage and four linebackers behind them.

Inside Linebackers

Inside or middle linebackers line up behind the defensive tackles. They are responsible for calling defensive schemes, covering gaps on the line, and blitzing the quarterback.

Mike Linebackers

When playing the 4-3 defense, there is only one middle linebacker. They are responsible for preventing the other team's center from getting down the field. When there is only one middle linebacker, they are known as the “Mike” linebacker. The Mike linebacker communicates with the sideline and calls offensive schemes in a role comparable to that of the quarterback on offense.

Ted Linebackers

When playing a 3-4 defense, there are two middle linebackers. One retains the “Mike” label, while the other is called “Ted.” The Ted linebacker usually covers blocks to allow the Mike linebacker to make a play on the ball. Ted blockers are also often called on to blitz the quarterback. Because of these requirements, Ted linebackers are usually the larger of the two inside linebackers. Ted linebackers must be smart and strategic to effectively make plays on the quarterback.

Outside Linebackers

There are typically two outside linebackers, and they line up outside of the defensive ends. Outside linebackers are primarily responsible for containing runs and passes on the outside of formations. Their roles depend on whether they are playing on the weak side or the strong side of the field.

Sam Linebackers

The strong side or “Sam” linebacker lines up on the strong side of the field, which is the same side as the offensive tight end or the greater number of offensive players. Strong side linebackers are typically the largest linebackers, and they are responsible for shedding run blocks and tackling ball carriers.

Will Linebackers

The weak side linebacker plays on the opposite side of the field from the tight end. This linebacker is known as the “Will.” Will linebackers are often slightly quicker and smaller than the others because they are more likely to drop back and cover a slot receiver or running back in pass coverage.

Jack Linebackers

In a 3-4 defense, the Will linebacker might slide over next to Mike to add a fourth linebacker on the outside of the weak side, known as “Jack.” The Jack linebacker is usually a pass-rusher or run-stopper, so they need to be larger players similar to defensive ends in size.


What are the different linebacker positions?

There are two major categories of linebackers in football: inside and outside linebackers. These types of linebackers are further subdivided into linebackers such as strong side, weak side, and middle linebackers. In some cases, linebackers are referred to by names, such as Mike, Ted, Sam, Will, or Jack. These names usually correspond to their field position. For example, a Mike linebacker will be a middle linebacker, while Sam and Will linebackers will be located on the strong and weak side of the field, respectively.  

How many linebackers are there on the field?

The number of linebackers on the field can vary depending on the defensive scheme being used for the play. For instance, in a 4-3 defense, there are three linebackers on the field, while in a 3-4 defense, four linebackers are on the field. Other defensive formations can involve two linebackers. By far, however, most defensive formations involve either three or four linebackers. 

What does Jack linebacker mean?

A Jack linebacker is a type of defensive player in football that merges the roles of a linebacker and a defensive end. The Jack linebacker is known for being a pass rush specialist but is also expected to perform as part of a zone defense and defend deeper passes. Jack linebackers tend to rush the offense more often than Sam or Will linebackers.