Train Footwork Through Movement Patterns in Linebackers

By Bill Lund

I don’t use bags in the traditional sense where you take time during individual periods to step over the bags or shuffle in and out to develop footwork. I will use them as landmarks and to provide context for certain drills, but I have eliminated bags as footwork drills.

Long ago I learned from a former colleague to “use drills that have purpose.” I have had coaches tell me bag drills help develop feet and movement in linebackers, and maybe during offseason conditioning bags drills I could agree with that, but when I watch game film I could not find any applicable area of the game where I could see the value of using bags for footwork drills.

There are many great coaches who have a different perspective on using bags, but I want to use that time to get more pertinent work that can show direct applicability to my players.

As I began evaluating what I was teaching and wanted to improve, I looked hard at my game film while also looking at different linebacker movements from the NFL and FBS college football. I spoke to coaches about drill work and time allotted and began to overhaul what I wanted to see from my own players.

I structured footwork drills like everything else – working from snap to finish. At the snap, the footwork I want to see displayed transitions to the start of the play, then through the midpoint of the play and then finally the finish. When the ball is snapped, I prefer to teach linebackers to “pop” their feet in place to get a quick snap shot of the play, determining run/pass and direction. I use the cliché “Don’t go till you know!”

I had previously taught a downhill directional step and the 6-inch power step, but with the rapid use of the spread offense, RPOs and more passing than a decade ago, it became more important to get the snap shot first and not take yourself out of position early in a play.

For the drill, all the linebackers are facing me, lined up three across and stacked behind each other. I act as the key and say: “hit. “They pop their feet until I give them a visual cue.

  • Run: left or right
  • Pass: left or right

I exaggerate the key to emphasize the “don’t go till you know” adage and to force them to react quickly to what they see: training their eyes in the process. After the pop, the reaction I want is for them to work a stutter technique in the direction they have keyed.

The next drill in our base movements is called Stutter. This movement is a fire-like movement of the feet moving left then right followed by a burst.

It’s best described as taking a thousand steps to move about a foot in a direction left or right. I view this as teaching deliberate and patient feet. It’s a movement to confirm keys while maintaining a quality base.

The next drill in the progression is a basic Shuffle. I like to use the verbal cues of step/gather in this movement. As we step in the direction from our base stance, we then gather back into that same exact stance.

We can work to the left or right based on our key, then repeat. I am looking for the linebacker to return to his stance as he moves during his shuffle which keeps him in a good base always.

The next drill is Two-step. This drill begins with two shuffle steps, emphasizing our shuffle technique then transitioning to a lateral run. On the lateral run, we want to keep our shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and open our hips as we run laterally.

We will run a total of 10 yards, and at the yard line I want to see the linebackers plant and drive downhill into a sprint. We want to limit drifting outside the plant line we are cutting on. I use this drill to help train our transition between different movements. This also works great at camps to see what linebackers the ability have to shuffle, lateral run and transition downhill to a sprint efficiently.

The final part of our base progression is our 45-degree drop, an angled zone pass drop. I use the same verbal cues of step/gather but we are working our initial zone drop technique at a 45-degree angle.

On our pass cue, we will open at a 45, left or right, based on our cue and move in a manner that should look exactly like our shuffle. Off the last shuffle we will zone turn and burst to finish.

The last pattern is our play action feet. We will get some great fakes by offensives, and I want to train the appropriate response to those fakes by the linebackers. This drill I call “Tag the Can.”

I set up five cans as an offensive line. As I snap the ball, my three linebackers pop their feet then attack their gap at the line of scrimmage. When they are close enough to tag the can, they turn and sprint to their zones of responsibility.

As an additional aspect, I can add a throw to provide a target and break cue for the linebackers. This adds to the progression and trains breaking on a throw while also transitioning to a full sprint and coming to balance on the ball carrier.

I also use the drill names as buzz words for quick coaching points to my players. As an example, on a counter play, if I notice a player was out of position because of his footwork, I may tell him that when he sees counter action to “stutter” until you see the puller. Or if I notice a linebacker floating backward on a play action drop, I will remind him to “tag the can.” The drills are now engrained in the players’ minds and provide an instant visual reminder of what they need to do technique wise.

I hope these drill ideas provide some food for thought. Match what you see on film to what you do in practice. Develop drills that have direct application and progression to things you see on the field.

As your players utilize and understand the patterns trained they will become more efficient movers on the field. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me.

Bill Lund is the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Saginaw Valley State University. He previously held positions at Hope College, North Park University of Carleton College, St. Norbert College, University of Buffalo, Colby College and Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter @Lundsanity51.