We get it, football has tons of positions and with subsets of positions like inside or outside linebackers things can get confusing. Luckily this guide is on hand to breakdown the differences between inside linebackers vs outside linebackers.
In general, inside linebackers are going to have a slightly larger and bulkier build. This is because these players are often more involved in the run game.
Traditional middle linebackers were larger and often took on lead blocking fullbacks on running plays. As the NFL has become more evolved these players have started to get more involved in pass coverage.
Additionally depending on the scheme outside linebackers are going to spend a lot more time rushing the passer compared to inside linebackers.
Though to get a true understanding of the differences between these linebackers we are going to have to compare them within their schemes.
Linebackers In A 3-4
In a three-four formation, there are going to be three defensive linemen and four linebackers. Amongst these four linebackers, there are two middle linebackers and two outside linebackers.
Differences between inside and outside linebackers in a 3-4
In this formation, there are going to be two middle linebackers. These two players play fairly different roles with one linebacker playing a traditional run-stopping role. And the other playing more of a coverage role in the middle of the field.
In this defense the outside linebackers play a significant role in the pass rush. Since there are only three defensive linemen the outside linebackers will often play close to the line of scrimmage and rush the quarterback.
In order to be proficient pass rushers, these linebackers are often taller, leaner, and built for tackling quarterbacks instead of run-stopping.
That all being said, inside and outside linebackers in this formation will likely play multiple roles throughout the game. With the middle linebackers blitzing the quarterback and outside linebackers playing pass coverage and stopping runs.
Additionally one of the middle linebackers will also act as the “QB” of the defense. This player will have a mic in his helmet in order to talk to the coaching staff.
They are also usually responsible for relaying the play to the teammates as well as calling audibles.
Linebackers In A 4-3 Defense
In a four-three defense there are going to be four defensive lineman and three linebackers on the field. These three linebackers are referred as the weakside linebacker the middle linebacker, and the strong side linebacker.
These linebackers are often referred to by their nickname Mike (middle) Sam (strongside) and Will (Weakside).
Since there are more defensive linemen than outside linebackers, they are are much less involved in pass rushing. These outside linebackers are more involved in pass coverage and stopping the run.
The strongside linebacker lines up on the strong side of the formation. This is often the direction the offense is running towards. This means the strongside linebacker is often involved with fighting off blocks and bringing down the running back.
The weakside linebacker lines up on the side of the formation with fewer players. This side of the formation is run towards less often.
The middle linebacker on a 4-3 defense plays a combination of run-stopping and pass coverage. There pass coverage responsibilities typically only cover a short zone in the middle of the field.
On running plays this middle linebacker will look to identify where the running back is going. They will then attempt to beat their block and bring down the runner.
This middle linebacker will also have the job of being the quarterback of the defense. Since there is only one middle linebacker he must assume these duties.
We hope that this guide has illustrated the difference between middle linebackers vs outside linebackers. The main takeaways are that middle linebackers are often bigger due to their increased usage in the run game.
Outside linebackers on the other hand are more involved in pass coverage and pass rushing. These duties often result in outside linebackers being leaner taller, and often faster than middle linebackers.