Linebacker Reads and Keys | FBCP S09E14

Linebacker reads and keys are the single most searched for keyword on Joe Daniel Football. It seems every coach is looking for the perfect reads for your linebackers.

I have coached just about every type of linebacker reads imaginable. Keying guards, keying backfield. I have cross-keyed the backs, keyed the 2-man surface… you name it, I have tried to coach it.

Skip all the hassle. Get the complete guide to Linebacker Reads in this episode of The Football Coaching Podcast.

Photo by Keith Johnston on Unsplash

Part 1: What Linebacker Reads and Keys Do

  • Linebacker reads only get your linebackers going in the direction of the play. Consider linebacker reads as getting you 2 steps closer to the point of attack.
  • Your reads will never be perfect. No matter what you decide to read, there is a way to counteract it with misdirection, influence traps, or even just plain sloppy offensive play.
  • Eventually, you’re going to have to find the football. There is no way around it. The reads are just one clue to where the ball is going.


Part 2: Pro’s and Con’s of Linebacker Reads and Keys

  • Keying the Backfield is the most basic linebacker read.
    • This is a fast key, and easy to teach. Probably the most natural read. Chase the guy who has the ball.
    • Backfield reads can get much more complicated based on backfield flow, read options, and other looks.
    • Unfortunately, running back reads are also the least accurate. Every offense has multiple plays using misdirection.
  • Guards are also simple linebacker reads and keys to teach.
    • The Guards tend to go where the ball is going. Most gap scheme offenses will also pull the guards in the direction of the play.
    • Guard reads are more accurate than backfield keys most of the time.
    • But guards don’t carry the football. Eventually, you have to pick up the running back on a run play.
    • Teams will influence trap with the guards. You cannot completely sell out to a guard read.
  • 2-Man Surface Linebacker reads and keys can raise the accuracy of lineman keys.
    • 2-man surface usually uses a guard and an adjacent lineman (Center or Tackle).
    • You can find the point of attack based on if the 2-man surface moves together or splits.
    • These reads are more complicated to teach, although coaches can make any read overly complicated.
    • Much like the Guard reads, you eventually have to find the ball carrier anyway.

Part 3: What Reads Should You Coach?

  • Linebacker reads and keys always must involve a primary key and a secondary key.
  • We either teach the primary key as the backfield, and secondary key as guard pulls OR primary key as guard pulls and secondary key as backfield.
  • The decision is usually based on whether or not you have someone to cover for you on faster, but less accurate, backfield key reads.
    • Quarters Coverage as primary coverage: Primary key is backfield, secondary key is guard pulls.
    • Cover 3 or Cover 1 as primary coverage: Primary key is guard reads, secondary key is backfield.

Related Links

  • A recent JDFB Quick Clinic focused on Linebacker Reads for the Odd Stack Defense:
  • Season 6, Episode 12 of The Football Coaching Podcast focused on Linebacker Reads for the 4-3 Defense:
  • Read The 5 Step Progression to Developing Great Linebackers.