What Does A Linebacker Do In Football?

football linebackers

A linebacker (LB) is a position on the defense tasked with stopping the offense. He is lined up behind the defensive linemen (i.e. he “backs up” the line, hence the name “linebacker”). Linebackers are usually the captains of defensive squads, as they must be quick to decipher what play the offense is running and act as a result.


The job of the linebacker varies depending on what play is called. They are the first players who should recognize the offense’s play strategy. Linebackers have multiple jobs, the main ones being: stopping the running back from getting past the defensive line, attacking the quarterback, and helping defend against passing attempts. Linebackers should be very strong defensive members, but not too large in size, to the point where their speed is inhibited. Their instincts should be strong, because they have to react to their opponent’s move in literal seconds!

Communicating to Defenders

The linebackers are considered leaders amongst the defensive line, and oftentimes linebackers are named defensive captains. These players are tasked with reading offensive formations in order to best communicate with teammates on what play they suspect could be coming. The best linebackers can identify where their team’s coverage is lacking, where the ball is most likely heading, and how to react accordingly.

Reacting to Plays

As mentioned above, the main job of a linebacker is to react to the many different plays that their opponents might throw at them. Sometimes, a player will attempt to sack the quarterback, which is also known as a blitz. If a blitz is called, the linebacker will rush the quarterback to pressure or sack them. If a coverage play is called to defend against the pass, the linebacker will stay back in coverage to help defend the pass. If a coverage play is called, but the offense runs the ball, they must be quick to act to stop the ball carrier from gaining too many yards.

Stopping Runs

The second key role of a linebacker is to stop the offense from making running plays. Allowing the offense to run the ball gives their team control of the game and the clock, which the defense wants to avoid. In order to stop the offense from running the ball, effective linebackers must watch their defensive line whenever a play begins. If the defensive linemen are forced into creating an opening by the offense line–potentially allowing a running back to slip through the defense and make a play–the linebacker can run forward to close the gap and prevent the ball runner from advancing. Closing the gaps in the defensive line forces any runners to move laterally (i.e. to the sides of the line), which makes it easier for defenders to tackle them.

Defending Passes

While linebackers are sometimes tasked with stopping running backs on the ground, they are also often required to defend against the opposition's passing offense. Most commonly, linebackers will cover tight ends when playing man to man coverage. However, they are also occasionally lined up against speedy slot receivers, forcing them to put their athleticism on display.

Sacking the Quarterback

In some cases, if the defensive linemen effectively create an opening in the offensive line while the quarterback is still in the pocket, a linebacker can run forward, past the offense, and sack the quarterback. Quarterback sacks are a vital part of a defense’s strategy in football, as they reduce the offense’s morale, often result in large losses in yardage for the offense, and can even occasionally cause turnovers, such as fumbles. As the defensive players most well-positioned to make a sack, linebackers need to be observant enough to spot openings in the offensive line, as exploiting such openings is key to taking a quarterback down.

List of Famous NFL Linebackers

  • Dick Butkus
  • Ray Lewis
  • Von Miller
  • Junior Seau
  • Lawrence Taylor
  • Brian Urlacher
  • Bobby Wagner


What do linebackers do in football?

In football, linebackers are key members of the defense, often serving as captains of their defensive squads. Linebackers serve as a secondary line of defense after the defensive linemen, and are responsible for stopping the offense from making running plays, defending passes, and sacking the quarterback. Linebackers are known for their observance, strength, and speed, a balance of qualities which are required for them to make plays.

Are linebackers offensive or defensive players?

Linebackers are defensive players. They typically line up between the defensive line and the secondary, which puts them in a unique position in which they must regularly defend against both passing and rushing plays.

Who is the best NFL linebacker of all time?

Of the many great linebackers in NFL history, famed New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor is widely considered to be the greatest linebacker of all time. In his 13-year career with the Giants, Taylor was named to the Pro Bowl Team ten times, earned the title of 1981 Rookie of the Year, was named the 1986 NFL MVP, and won two Super Bowls (Super Bowls XXI and XXV). As a linebacker, Taylor was known for his immense strength and ability to withstand hits, and racked up an impressive 132.5 sacks in his career. To this day, Taylor is one of only two defensemen to be named NFL MVP, and is the only linebacker to receive the honor. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.