How I Evaluate Each Position:
By Bill Walsh
PSX Draft Insider Special
Ideal size: 6-21/2, 250
The inside linebacker has to be substantial enough to meet blockers coming from any number of angles and not be knocked around the field easily. Instinct is mandatory at this position. He must be able to watch the ball and read the blocking. It's difficult to describe how to look for instinct, but the guys who find a way to get to the football and make the tackle, they probably have it.
They cannot avoid a lot of people to get to the ball or they won't get there. If they take the way around somebody to avoid being blocked, then they have, in effect, been blocked. They must be so quick, like Mike Singletary of the Chicago Bears. He would get the jump on the blocker. He would meet the blocker before the blocker was ready. Then he would get off the block, or shed the blocker, and then move to the ball almost without wasting a step.
With all this aggressive contact, the middle linebacker must have an indestructible body. There have been great hitters who damaged themselves in the process. Your middle linebacker can't be in and out of the game or limping off the field. So it takes a powerful physique with bone girth that allows you to give and take punishment.
In pass coverage, the middle linebacker can be protected, as was the case often even with the great Dick Butkus. But there are also linebackers who have been outstanding coverage men in a form, such as Mike Curtis when he played with the old Baltimore Colts and, to a degree, Singletary.
Again, as a coaching staff you have the option of how to design your pass coverage around your middle linebacker.
If he is a great natural pursuer and clean tackler and can work right through pass blockers and has spontaneous movement that triggers when he makes his reads, then you are quite willing to make a concession in pass coverage. You will adjust to cover for him. Those great instincts are rare and cannot really be taught, so certainly make sure you utilize them if they are available. You can always compensate in some way for pass coverage.