A sam linebacker is an alternative name for a strong side linebacker. A strong side linebacker lines up on the side of the offense that contains the most personnel, this is typically the side of the field has the tight end.
A Sam linebacker will often be tasked with tackling the running back. This is because it is common for the running back to run towards the strong side of the formation.
This article is going to cover what a Sam linebacker does, how they differ from Will and Mike linebackers as well as, where this player lines up.
What Does a Sam Linebacker Do?
The sam linebacker has many responsibilities that include both run support and coverage ability. It is common for teams to run towards the side of the field the Sam linebacker lines up on.
This means the sam linebacker will be responsible for tackling the running back and filling his gap. Since they play on the strong side they will often have to shed the block of a fullback or tight end on running plays.
Sam linebackers will also have to play pass coverage on short zones in both the cover 2 and cover 3 defenses. These are small zones but still require versatility and speed from the linebacker.
As the NFL transitions more and more to the passing game, coverage responsibilities have increased for these linebackers. This has been met with faster linebackers playing this position as opposed to the bigger thumper linebackers which are more effective in stopping the run.
Sam vs Will vs Mike linebackers?
When learning about the the Sam position most football fans are also curious to know about Will and Mike linebackers as well.
The difference between these linebackers is where they line up.
A Will linebacker lines up on the weak side, a Mike linebacker lines up in the middle of the field and a Sam linebacker lines up on the strong side.
The first letter of these linebacker’s titles is telling you where these positions line up.
The strong side as we stated previously in our article is the side of the offense which has more players.
Most often the strong side is determined by the tight end. As you know the offensive line has five players on it. With the center playing in the middle this makes for two players on either side of the line.
Once the tight end joins the line he will make three players on one side of the line and two on the other. If the tight end has joined the right side of the line then the right is the strong side.
At this point, the Sam linebacker will line up on the side of the line with the linebacker. While the Will linebacker will line up on the weak side which only has two players.
Where Does a Sam Linebacker Lineup?
The Sam linebacker lines up on whichever side of the line has more offensive players. This means Sam will almost always start the play across from the tight end.
It is important to remember that this linebacker does not always line up on the same side of the field. As the strong side of the formation changes from play to play this linebacker will have to move with the offense.
If you are wondering which side to line up as a strong side linebacker you can simply count the offensive line. Whichever side has more personnel is the side that the Sam linebackers wants to line up against.
How to play Sam linebacker
The key to playing the Sam linebacker position in football is to develop an ability to make tackles and beat blocks.
Several times throughout this article we have mentioned how the ball is usually run towards the strong side of the formation.
This means the Sam linebacker is often going to be the first linebacker that has a shot at bringing down the ball carrier.
Since this position is lined up in the direction the running back is heading the offense will have a blocker tasked with taking on the Sam.
In order to play this position effectively, you need to have the ability to fight off these blocks and get to the running back.
If the offense is struggling to run the ball to the strong side of the formation the Sam linebacker is likely doing their job well.
On top of the run-stopping, Sam linebackers will also have to play a role in pass coverage. In a zone defense, this will usually involve covering a short zone on their side of the field.
You may be responsible for covering receivers running hooks, slants, or crossing routes.
In man coverage, the Sam linebacker will often be matched up against the tight end or running back. When playing man coverage these linebackers will often get help on deeper routes.
The ability to effectively stop the pass as a linebacker can be vital in the pass-happy offenses seen today.