How to Play Will Linebacker

Two professional football teams at line of scrimmage waiting for the snap
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The weak side linebacker, or "Will" linebacker, is one of three linebackers on a standard defensive crew. Like the other two linebackers, Sam and Mike, he's primarily concerned with stopping the run, but he quickly transitions into a pass defender as needed and often ends up assigned to slot receivers—even more than the Sam. The Will linebacker has to be quick and agile, and able to move laterally with the ball carrier to force the run inside. However, because he lines up on the weak side of the formation, he is often pursuing the play as it goes away from him.


The Will linebacker lines up five or six yards deep and he usually splits the "B" gap on the weak side of the formation. This puts him in a nice position to stop the run if it comes his way but also gets him leverage to be able to drop in coverage or cover the back out of the backfield. If he has a slot receiver to his side, in most cases, he'll widen his alignment to be in position to cover the slot.


The Will linebacker is responsible for forcing any outside run to his inside, as well as cutback and reverse plays. He also has a great deal of pass coverage responsibility.


The Will linebacker keys on the linemen while getting directional keys from the backfield. If he reads a "low hat" run to his side, he'll quickly get upfield and take on any blocks to force the run back to his teammates. If it's run away from him, he'll hesitate and watch for any reverse or cutback play. On a pass play, he'll drop into coverage and cover his appropriate responsibility, which could be a zone or man up on the inside receiver on his side.

Who Should Play the Weak Side Linebacker?

The Will linebacker is most likely the most athletic of the three on the field. He has to be able to cover a lot of ground if the play goes away from him, and he is often called on to cover a slot receiver, whereas Sam usually covers a tight end. Will linebackers are not afraid to be physical and tackle. They're smart and able to read plays quickly to determine where to go. They're also good at pass coverage and can handle the occasional one-on-one pass coverage scenario.