NFL Combine 2014: Linebacker drills

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to strength, speed and explosion, linebackers' coverage skills will also be on display at the NFL Combine.

Linebackers will be put to the test at the NFL Scouting Combine with their speed, strength, agility and explosion all falling under the microscope. While the 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump and shuttle runs will garner some attention, the key to the combine for many linebackers is the pass-drop drill.

With more teams shifting to passing offenses, linebackers' coverage ability has become one of their most important traits. The pass-drop and hip rotation drill gives evaluators a firsthand look at how a player reacts and moves in space.

Players start in the middle of field, standing facing the coach who will give instructions. Upon the first signal, the player backpedals 5 yards. The coach will then signal for the player to shift directions, either right or left. When that happens, the player breaks for the sideline while maintaining eye contact with the coach. The coach will signal three more changes of direction. He might send the player left, right or force him to backpedal again. The linebacker is required to maintain eye contact throughout the drill. The coverage drill ends with the coach signaling for the player to come forward. He plants, shifts direction and sprints toward the coach, intercepting a pass on his way in.

The drill is designed to challenge the player's coverage ability and show which players have fluid hips and the ability to change direction and which players are stiff. For traditional linebackers, this drill shows their ability to stay on the field for three downs. With the NFL transforming into a passing league, having coverage skills and the ability to stay on the field for three downs is one of the keys to being a modern NFL linebacker. The drill is also vital for players making a transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker. Many played with their hand on the ground during their entire college careers, but are too small to play end in the NFL. In order to make the switch to outside linebacker, they have to prove they aren't a liability in coverage and have the fluid ability to move in space.

Players to watch

C.J. Mosley - Mocking the Draft ranked Mosley as the top inside linebacker in the draft. He did it all during his career at Alabama and should stand out at the combine. Mosley was effective in coverage during his career and has the skills to excel during the pass-drop drill. Assuming he does, that should seal his place as the top inside linebacker in the draft.

Khalil Mack - There is very little question Mack can rush the passer. His pass-rush ability is why he's considered a top prospect and that will likely be his role at the next level. That doesn't mean he won't occasionally be asked to drop into coverage. He should do very well in the explosion drills with his exceptional burst. A moderate showing in the coverage skills would likely make for a successful combine.

Anthony Barr - Like Mack, Barr is a rush-first linebacker who causes havoc for offensive linemen with his explosive athletic ability and acceleration. That should allow him to post some impressive numbers in many of the drills. He might be able to cement his status as a top prospect and potential top-10 pick with a solid overall showing, including in the coverage drill.

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