What Is The Mike Linebacker In Football? Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: March 6, 2024

During games, often before the play even starts, we’ll often hear the quarterback yell, “53 is the Mike”. Identifying the Mike linebacker is essential in football. Why does the quarterback call out the Mike on defense?

The Mike linebacker in football is the middle linebacker on the defense. The quarterback or center makes this call to help with the blocking schemes.

This article will show you in-depth why quarterbacks call out the Mike linebacker.

What Is The Mike Linebacker In Football?

The Mike linebacker is the middle linebacker on defense. The Mike linebacker is often referred to as the quarterback of the defense. He is the player that often aligns in the middle of the defensive formation, behind the defensive tackles.

There are typically three linebackers on defense. Each linebacker position has certain tasks they must do within their defensive scheme.

Other linebacker positions are the “Sam” and “Will.” The Sam linebacker is often referred to as the strong-side linebacker, with the Will linebacker being the weak-side linebacker. Learn more about the Sam and Will Linebackers here.

The Mike linebacker is often the defensive captain and will call out the defensive play calls in the defensive huddle. Football coaches will appoint their best linebacker as the Mike linebacker.

This player is often the center of the defense. In most defenses, they will have 1 or 2 inside backers responsible for playing both run and pass as the middle linebacker.

In most cases, this is the defense’s best tackler and defender.

The best way to think of the Mike linebacker from an offensive perspective is that he’s the middle and the most important player on the defensive side of the ball.

Other than the defensive players lining up on the line of scrimmage, it’s essential to make sure the Mike linebacker is blocked on all plays.

Why Do Quarterbacks Call Out The Mike?

Although the Mike linebacker is usually one of the best defensive players/ the star linebacker, the quarterback calling him the “Mike” has nothing to do with his ability as a football player.

In offensive line terminology, identifying the Mike linebacker helps the offensive line set the blocking scheme, whether it be for a run or a pass.

For instance, if it’s a run-blocking scheme and the offense is zone blocking, they must identify who is doubling and moving to the second level. Instead of saying “53 in the middle”, it’s easier to say “53 is the Mike”.

Here is a visual for reference:

In a passing situation, the quarterback will call out the Mike linebacker for the offensive lineman to determine who is in the middle of the protection. This way, the guards and tackles can sort out who they have. Below is a visual reference.

Inside linebackers like the Mike linebacker are important to make sure they are accounted for. If not the offensive center and offensive guards may have a tough time picking up any blitzes.

Calling Out The Mike Linebacker

No, the center may make the calls as well. Younger quarterbacks often focus on the coverage and checking the plays, while the center will focus on adjusting the protection.

This is where you’ll see a center point at a player as soon as he puts his hand on the football.

Masterminds like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can handle both. They will adjust the protection based on what they anticipate from the defense.

Veterans who understand defensive concepts can put their offensive linemen in the best possible position.

This is why the center position is valuable when the team has a younger quarterback.

The quarterbacks anticipating a blitz coming off the edge may move or slide the protection.

For instance, Tom Brady calls the middle linebacker “Mike” for the play.

During his cadence, he sees the defense start to blitz from the left side.

He can then change the “Mike” (the middle) to the weakside linebacker, and the whole line will shift that way.

This is very common in the NFL, where teams consistently stunt and bring pressure from the outside. Teams rarely stunt and bring one-man or two-man pressures in youth and high school games.

This is a lot easier for a quarterback and offensive lineman at those levels to block the man head up.

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Different Variations Of Calling Out The Mike

Quarterbacks may yell out a number and point. For instance, if the middle linebacker is the person they are designating as “the mike,” they may say his number – 53!

Another variation is a team may say nothing. With enough repetition, the players automatically know who the Mike linebacker is and take the proper steps to block him up.

Offensive lineman often has rules to help them block.

All five linemen need to make the right block for the offense to succeed. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the best block; it just needs to be the right block to get in the way of the defensive player.

The coaching staff often creates these rules to react to any blitz or stunt the defense sends their way.

Saying nothing will often insinuate every player knows what they’re doing based on the rules built into the offense.

This is great as you’re not tipping off anything to the offense. However, the lack of communication can hurt the offensive line as a whole.

At vIQtory, we always emphasize that more communication is better.

That way, there are no excuses for a lineman to say, “They didn’t hear” or “They didn’t know” who the Mike linebacker is.

Keep Learning

Mike linebackers are the captain of the defense and are responsible for calling the plays. They stand directly behind the four down lineman. The Mike linebacker position is often a player who can help stop the run and drop into pass coverage effectively.

Defensive strategies are often built around where the Mike linebacker aligns. Teams will have blitzes and stunts based on the Mike linebacker.

If you liked learning about the Mike linebacker position, we recommend you check out our Ultimate Football Guide. Inside, you will find everything you need to raise your Football IQ!

The Mike is one of the most important identifiers, pre-snap, for the quarterback and the offensive line to establish the blocking points. The Mike linebacker can change per system based on the scheme, but it’s essential to identify these points.

The Mike linebacker sets the protections for both the run and pass play.

When the quarterback points out the Mike linebacker, he’s letting the offensive line know where the “count” starts.

This is pivotal for the offensive line to understand who they’re blocking if a blitz or stunt happens.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.