Football is a team sport that requires both offense and defense to work together to achieve success. Each player on the field has a specific role and position to play, and understanding these positions is essential to understanding the game.
In this article, we will focus on one of the key defensive positions in football: the outside linebacker.
As the name suggests, the outside linebacker is positioned on the outer edges of the defensive formation, on either side of the middle linebacker who covers the middle of the field. An outside linebacker can be either a weak side linebacker or strong side linebacker depending on the formation and side of the field they are playing. They are required to assist the defensive linemen and three linebackers in stopping the run and pass.
Depending on the defensive formation, they may not be on field for every play. For example: both a 3-4 defensive formation and a 4-3 defensive formation, have two OLBs on either side, but a 5-2 does not as the extra players are used on the defensive line.
One of the key responsibilities of the outside linebacker is to set the edge of the defense. This means that they must prevent the opposing team's running back from getting outside of them and turning upfield. If the running back manages to get outside of the outside linebacker, they have a clear path to the end zone, and it can be challenging to stop them.
What are their responsibilities?
The responsibilities of an outside linebacker in American football can vary depending on the specific defensive scheme used by a team. However, in general, outside linebackers are responsible for:
Pass Rush: One of the primary responsibilities of an outside linebacker is to rush the quarterback on passing plays, using their speed and agility to get past the offensive line and disrupt the play.
Coverage: Outside linebackers also have to cover receivers, tight ends, and running backs in pass coverage. They may be responsible for covering a specific area of the field or a particular receiver.
Run Defense: Outside linebackers must also be effective in run defense, filling gaps in the offensive line to prevent running backs from gaining yardage beyond the line of scrimmage. They must be able to quickly read the running play, diagnose where the ball is going, and make tackles.
Edge Setting: Another critical responsibility of an outside linebacker is setting the edge, which involves preventing offensive players from getting outside of them and around the corner. This is especially important in defending against outside runs and screens.
Blitzing: In some defensive schemes, outside linebackers may be called upon to blitz, which means they will rush the quarterback on passing plays, even if they are not the primary pass rusher.
What makes a great outside linebacker?
A great outside linebacker is a versatile player who can contribute in multiple ways on defense. Here are some of the key traits and skills that make a great outside linebacker:
Speed and agility: Outside linebackers need to be fast and agile to cover a lot of ground quickly and chase down ball carriers.
Strength and power: A great outside linebacker needs to be able to shed blocks and overpower offensive linemen to get to the quarterback or running back.
Athleticism: Outside linebackers are often asked to drop back into coverage or defend against the run, so they need to be able to change direction quickly and react to plays in a split second.
Football IQ: A great outside linebacker is able to read and diagnose offensive plays quickly, anticipate where the ball is going, and make the right decision about how to react.
Pass-rushing ability: Outside linebackers are often called upon to rush the passer and disrupt the quarterback, so a great outside linebacker needs to have a variety of moves and techniques to get to the quarterback and finish the play.
Versatility: A great outside linebacker can play multiple positions, drop back into coverage, rush the passer, and defend against the run.
Leadership: Outside linebackers are often leaders on defense, so a great outside linebacker needs to be able to communicate effectively with teammates, lead by example, and inspire others to play at their best.
Famous NFL OLBs
Here are a few of the best NFL players to have played outside linebacker.
Lawrence Taylor - Taylor is widely considered one of the greatest linebackers of all time. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times and was dominant all throughout his college football career.
Derrick Thomas - Thomas played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989 to 1999, and was known for his explosive pass rushing ability. He was named to the Pro Bowl nine times and was the NFL's sack leader in 1990 and 1998.
Jack Ham - Ham played for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1971 to 1982, and was a key part of the team's "Steel Curtain" defense that won four Super Bowls in the 1970s.
Junior Seau - Seau played for several teams over his 20-year career, including the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots. He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.