Training Camp: Playing Inside Linebacker vs Outside Linebacker

Training Camp:  Inside Linebacker vs Outside Linebacker

I attended (i.e., watched) football camp at Columbia University and learned some of the subtle differences between the Inside Linebacker and the Outside Linebacker and what to watch for.

The second line of the defense (read more about each position group on the field) consists of the players who stand directly behind the defensive linemen on the field and are referred to as linebackers.  While there are several distinctions between what the individual linebackers are doing in their position, the most basic one begins with the difference between the inside and outside linebackers.  I posed this question because of the fact that sometimes players are asked to switch from one to the other and I wanted to understand how this might affect what they are doing and what skills they need to develop at ILB vs OLB.


ILB.  The inside player has less time to read the action because it comes quicker at him.  He is right in the middle, about five feet from where the offensive players are coming at him.

OLB.  The outside player needs to be quicker in pass coverage.  He is farther away from where the ball may be so has more ground to cover.  In the 4-3 his ability to contribute to pass coverage is really important, while in the 3-4 he may be used in an increased role for rushing the passer.  (Understand more about how the 3-4 and the 4-3 affect the linebackers).

ILB.  Because he is in the middle and the play will typically unfold to either his left or his right, he needs to be able to move well in both directions.  However, in the 3-4 defense because there are two inside linebackers, each will have a more defined side of the field to play on.

OLB.  He is usually placed in way so that he can utilize his dominant side on a play.

ILB.  The offensive players in the middle are typically the biggest ones.  Therefore, the inside player has to be somewhat bigger and stronger, because he is going up against bigger players, such as the Center, Guard and Tackle.

OLB.  The offensive players on the outside are typically smaller and faster.  Therefore the outside player has to be quicker, but not as large as he is going up against Tight Ends, Running Backs and Wide receivers who aren’t as large as the linemen in the middle that the ILB must face.

The Inside Linebacker may also be referred to as the middle linebacker.  Likewise, the outside linebacker may also be referred to as the strong side linebacker or the weak side linebacker, depending on which side he is covering. 

To read more, see Players by Position: Inside Linebacker and Outside Linebacker.

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