What Is a Will Linebacker: Understanding the Role

John Rizzo

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In the fast-paced and strategic world of American football, the positions on the defensive side of the field play a crucial role in stopping the opposing team’s offense. 

Among these positions, the “Will linebacker” stands out as a key player with unique responsibilities. But what is a Will linebacker, and what distinguishes them from other defensive positions?

A Will linebacker, often referred to as the “weakside linebacker,” is a fundamental part of a football defense. This linebacker position is known for its versatility, speed, and ability to cover ground quickly. 

In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of the Will linebacker’s role, exploring their primary responsibilities and how they contribute to their team’s defensive strategy.

Whether you’re a seasoned football enthusiast or new to the game, understanding the role of a Will linebacker is essential for appreciating the intricacies of defensive gameplay. Join us as we break down the key attributes and duties of this dynamic position on the gridiron.

What Is a Will Linebacker?


A Will linebacker, often referred to as the weakside linebacker, is a critical position in American football, especially in defensive schemes that employ a 4-3 or 3-4 alignment. 

The Will linebacker plays a multifaceted role in the defense, combining speed, agility, and football intelligence to contribute to the team’s success.

Understanding the Position

To comprehend the role of a Will linebacker, it’s essential to first grasp the fundamentals of linebacker positions in American football. There are generally three main linebacker positions in most defensive formations:

Middle Linebacker (MLB)

Positioned at the heart of the defense, the middle linebacker is often the “quarterback” of the defense. They are responsible for making calls, reading the offense, and are typically involved in both run-stopping and pass coverage.

Strongside Linebacker (SLB)

The strong linebacker lines up on the side of the offensive formation that has more players, known as the “strong side.” They often have responsibilities related to setting the edge in run defense and covering tight ends.

Weakside Linebacker (Will)

This is where the Will linebacker comes into play. The Will linebacker lines up on the side of the offensive formation with fewer players, known as the “weak side.” 

The Will linebacker is typically not as heavily involved in taking on blockers in run defense, as their primary responsibilities revolve around pass coverage, pursuing ball carriers, and making tackles in open space.

What Are the Primary Responsibilities of a Will Linebacker?

Primary Responsibilities of a Will Linebacker

The Will linebacker’s role can vary depending on the defensive scheme and the specific play called, but several core responsibilities remain consistent:

Pass Coverage

Will linebackers are crucial components of a defense’s pass coverage strategy. They are often tasked with covering a range of offensive threats, including running backs coming out of the backfield, tight ends on short to intermediate routes, and even wide receivers in certain situations. 

To excel in pass coverage, Will linebackers must possess exceptional agility and awareness. 

They need to seamlessly transition between zone and man-to-man coverage, anticipating the quarterback’s throws and making plays on the ball, whether it’s by breaking up passes or capitalizing on interception opportunities.

Sideline-to-Sideline Pursuit

One of the distinguishing traits of a Will linebacker is their ability to cover vast amounts of ground on the field. They must be fast, agile, and have excellent lateral movement to pursue ball carriers from sideline to sideline. 

This skill is vital in preventing running backs from breaking into open space for long gains and in defending against screen passes, where their quick reaction can disrupt the play in the backfield.


Will linebackers are not just coverage specialists; they are also adept at putting pressure on the quarterback. They are frequently called upon to blitz, using their speed and cunning to penetrate the offensive line and disrupt the passing game. 

Their ability to disguise their intentions and time their blitzes effectively can create havoc in the opponent’s backfield and lead to sacks or hurried throws.

Run Support

While the primary run-stopping duties often fall to the middle or inside linebackers, Will linebackers still play a critical role in run support. 

They need to diagnose run plays quickly, shed blockers, and contribute to stopping the ball carrier when necessary. Their versatility makes them valuable assets in defending both the run and pass effectively.

Play Recognition

Will linebackers are essentially the quarterbacks of the defense. They must possess exceptional football IQ and the ability to read the opposing offense’s pre-snap and post-snap movements. 

By recognizing key cues and understanding offensive tendencies, they can anticipate plays and react decisively. This keen play recognition can lead to game-changing plays, such as interceptions, tackles for loss, and disrupting the timing of the opposing offense.

Skills and Traits of a Successful Will Linebacker

Skills and Traits of a Successful Will Linebacker

To excel as a Will linebacker, players need a combination of physical skills and mental attributes. A successful Will linebacker possesses a combination of skills and traits that make them effective on the football field. Here are the key skills and traits of a successful Will linebacker:

A successful Will linebacker possesses a combination of skills and traits that make them effective on the football field. Here are the key skills and traits of a successful Will linebacker:


Will linebackers need to be fast and agile to cover ground quickly, whether it’s in pass coverage or sideline-to-sideline pursuit. Speed allows them to close gaps and make plays on the ball. It’s a must-have skill for anyone interested in playing in this position.

Agility and Coverage Skills

Agility is crucial for changing direction rapidly, evading blockers, and tracking elusive ball carriers. It’s a fundamental skill for maintaining outside containment and defending against quick cuts by running backs and receivers.

Will linebackers must excel in pass coverage, both in zone and man-to-man situations. They need to be able to read the quarterback’s eyes, anticipate routes, and react quickly to break up passes or make interceptions.

Tackling Ability and Football IQ

Effective tackling is a fundamental skill for all linebackers. Will linebackers should be sure tacklers who can bring down ball carriers efficiently, preventing yards after contact.

A high football IQ is essential for Will linebackers. They need to read and react to the offense’s movements, recognize plays, and make decisions quickly. This includes understanding offensive formations and tendencies to anticipate plays effectively.

Instincts and Blitzing Skills

Successful Will linebackers often have a natural feel for the game. They can diagnose plays and react instinctively to offensive actions, leading to disruptive plays such as interceptions, tackles for loss, and forcing fumbles.

Will linebackers be effective pass rushers when called upon to blitz? This includes the ability to time their blitzes, disguise their intentions, and create pressure on the quarterback.

Physicality and Versatility

While they are not the primary run-stoppers, Will linebackers still need to be physical players. They should be able to shed blocks from offensive linemen and engage in run support when necessary.

Versatility is a valuable trait for Will linebackers. They need to be able to contribute in various aspects of the game, from pass coverage to run support to blitzing, making them well-rounded defenders.

Leadership and Work Ethic

Many successful Will linebackers serve as leaders on the defense. They communicate effectively with their teammates, helping to align the defense and make on-field adjustments.

Hard work and dedication are essential for any successful football player. Will linebackers should be committed to improving their skills, studying film, and staying in top physical condition.

Mental Toughness and Adaptability

Football can be a physically and mentally demanding sport. Successful Will linebackers need to maintain composure, even in high-pressure situations, and bounce back from setbacks.

The ability to adapt to changing game situations, offensive strategies, and play calls is crucial. Will linebackers should be flexible and capable of adjusting their approach as needed.


What is the main difference between a Mike and Will linebacker?

The primary difference lies in their positioning and responsibilities. The Mike linebacker is positioned in the middle and often focuses on run defense and play-calling, while the Will linebacker lines up on the weak side and specializes in pass coverage and pursuit.

Do all football teams use both Mike and Will linebackers?

Most football teams use both Mike and Will linebackers, but the specific roles and responsibilities may vary depending on the defensive scheme and strategy employed by the team.

Can a linebacker switch between the Mike and Will positions during a game?

Yes, linebackers can switch positions during a game, especially in response to the opposing offense’s formations and plays. Linebackers may be asked to adapt to different roles based on the situation.

What are some famous Mike and Will linebackers in NFL history?

In NFL history, famous Mike linebackers include players like Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, known for their leadership and run-stopping abilities. Famous Will linebackers include Derrick Brooks and Thomas Davis, renowned for their coverage skills and athleticism.

Are there other linebacker positions besides Mike and Will?

Yes, there are other linebacker positions, such as the Sam linebacker (strongside linebacker) and the Jack linebacker (hybrid edge rusher/linebacker). These positions also have unique roles and responsibilities within a defensive scheme.


In the high-stakes world of American football, the Will linebacker emerges as a linchpin of any formidable defense. This position’s unique blend of speed, versatility, and football IQ makes it an indispensable asset on the field. 

As we’ve explored in this article, the Will linebacker is responsible for covering a range of critical tasks, from stopping the run to defending against passes and blitzing the quarterback.

Understanding the Will linebacker’s role not only deepens one’s appreciation for the game but also sheds light on the strategic chess match that unfolds during every play. 

Their ability to adapt to the ever-evolving dynamics of the game, react to offensive maneuvers, and contribute to their team’s success showcases the brilliance of American football.

So, the next time you’re watching a football game, keep an eye on the Will linebacker. In this intricate dance of strategy and athleticism, the Will linebacker is a vital player who helps keep the opposing offense in check and ensures that every snap is a battle worth watching.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn

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