Linebackers in football are essential to stop both the run and the pass. The Sam, Mike, and Will linebackers are the primary linebackers in football.
These three linebackers’ names are often used to describe the three different positions. The “Mike” is often the middle linebacker. The “Sam” is the strong-side linebacker. The “Will” is the weak-side linebacker. The S in Sam helps players remember strong, and W in Will helps players remember weak.
We covered in a previous blog about the Mike Linebacker and what it means when the quarterback calls his name on offense.
Dating back to the 1950’s Tom Landry used women names such as Sarah, Meg & Wanda to differentiate between the three positions.
This has long been a standing tradition of teams that run a 4-3 scheme.
In this article, we’re going to look at each linebacker’s position, the origin of how it got its name, and how you can identify each position when watching football.
What Is A Linebacker In Football?
First, let’s learn what a linebacker is in football and how they are essential to the defensive puzzle.
The linebacker gets its name because of where they are positioned. They are positioned behind or in the back of the (defensive) line.
This position is essential because they’re responsible for covering both the run and the pass.
Typically, they will have to run at full speed to defeat blocks and tackle the running player on run plays.
On pass plays, they are forced to drop back into zone coverage or play man coverage.
Due to the innovation of the spread offense, defenses are often forced to have their linebackers be phenomenal athletes to cover the run and pass effectively.
Especially in professional leagues, the linebackers are often some of the best athletes on the field in size and athleticism.
The names are important because it allows the defensive coordinator to be flexible in their play calls.
For instance, if he wants to blitz just the middle linebacker, he can say “Mike Strong,” which could be a Mike Blitz to the strong.
Also, coaches can choose to blitz the strong and weak sides using Sam & Will blitzes. So if a team runs the ball to the strong side, coaches can game-plan to bring blitzes on certain downs by using easy calls.
The Mike Linebacker In Football
The first linebacker on our list is the popular Mike linebacker.
As mentioned, Tom Landry, in most recent memory, has used names to identify his players. Instead of using “Meg,” the term has evolved over the years to identify linebackers to a more masculine name like Mike.
This became a popular team as it was easy to relay and identify throughout complicated defensive systems.
The term “Mike” is now widely used as the middle linebacker of the defense.
Teams will also put their captain or their best linebacker in the Mike position.
This allows them to play sideline to sideline football and play in the most chaotic spot in football, right in the middle.
Popular Mike linebackers in the NFL were Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, and Luke Kuchlaly.
The Sam Linebacker In Football
The Sam linebacker is often converted from defensive scheme to defensive scheme, as the player may have different roles or responsibilities based on their assignments.
In general, the Sam linebacker is the strong side linebacker, meaning they will go wherever the strong side of the offensive formation is.
The strong side is often determined by having more players on one side.
For instance, if the team has three players to the left and one to the right, the Sam linebacker will line up every time to the three-player side.
In a 4-3 scheme, the Sam linebacker can often be found near scrimmage or 2-3 yards away.
This player is often used to disrupt tight ends and be physical at the point of attack.
The Will Linebacker In Football
The Will linebacker, also known as the weak-side linebacker, can often be found on the backside of formations.
Although “weak-side” linebacker doesn’t seem too exciting, they have an essential job to make sure no runs leak back gash through the weak side of the defense.
Often, teams will overload one side and run the other side.
The Will linebacker needs to be alert and aware to cover any crossing routes that may leak back into their zone when on the weak side.
Why Do Linebackers Have First Names In Football?
As mentioned, linebackers have names to give coaches my flexibility to send blitzes, stunts, or other calls.
Identifying each linebacker gives the coach freedom to get creative with his play calls.
If the coach just called his linebackers “middle, right, and left,” it gives no direction as to what linebacker should lineup and limits the play call.
For instance, only bad things can happen if the offense has three offensive players lined up to the left and only 1 to the right, and a “right” blitz is called.
The team is likely to run or throw the ball to the three offensive player sides, and you’re left with a linebacker blitzing from the wrong side.
This is why we give the linebacker’s name and ensure the defensive coordinator can have complete call control over their calls.
We highly encourage you to name your linebackers based on strength if you’re coaching the football game.
It helps to identify which linebackers should line up where and blitz if they need to.
Sam, Mike & Will are common names that have been used to identify linebackers for over 50 years now. Other names that have been used are Mack, Wanda, & Sallie.
Be creative in your offensive calling scheme and know that there is no “right way” to call a defense. Only the way that best fits you and your team.
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How do you call out your linebackers? Do you use a different play-calling scheme than the ones we noted above? Let us know in the comment section below!