The middle linebacker, or "mike" linebacker, is a central anchor point in any good defense. He's the key run stopper, and should find himself involved in almost every tackle on running plays. He epitomizes the football player persona, because he's big, strong, and hard-nosed. He is a key vocal leader in most defensive schemes, calling out formations and strengths, and communicating adjustments. He also is a key communicator for all the linebackers and defensive linemen, as he calls out formation strength and signals.
Here's where mike lines up, along with his assignment and his key/read.
The mike linebacker lines up about 4-5 yards deep, and head up on the center, in most cases. This alignment allows him to step quickly to the left or right to fill gaps to stop the run.
The mike linebacker is assigned as primarily a gap destroyer and a run stopper. He will take on any lead blocks and spill the back to his teammates if need be. In the case of a pass, he will drop to his appropriate responsibility, depending on the coverage called. For example, in cover 3 zone, he will drop, read the quarterback's eyes and break on the football. There are also times where the mike linebacker is assigned to cover the running back out of the backfield on either side.
With his eyes on the running back, mike sees and keys on the linemen. The back gives him his direction, the linemen tell him if it's run or pass. If the linemen pop up, it's most likely pass, so he'll drop to his responsibility. If the linemen block hard, he reads run and he will flow with the direction of the back and fill his gap to make the tackle.
Who Should Play Mike Linebacker?
A mike linebacker has to be big, strong, and able to be a physical tackler play after play. This is not someone who shies away from contact. The average NFL linebacker is over 6 feet 2 inches, and weighs over 230 pounds. Overall athleticism is important, as the mike linebacker will be required to drop in pass coverage, and move laterally with the passing game. But, overall, mike has to be a guy that likes to hit, and can bring down the best running backs out there.