Thurston Armbrister Jacksonville Jaguars (Press Association)Thurston Armbrister Jacksonville Jaguars (Press Association) © Copyright

Thurston Armbrister // How to

Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Thurston Armbrister tells us what it takes to make it big in one of gridiron’s most difficult positions

DEFENDING
We linebackers sit just behind the line of scrimmage and act as a buffer point, so our main job is to basically defend and stop the run of the offensive players. It depends if you are playing in a 4-3 defense line-up or a 3-4 one, but in a 3-4 defensive line-up there are two types of linebacker positions: the outside linebacker and the inside linebacker. The outside linebacker has to be able to rush the passer, running at and tackling the ball player – usually the quarterback – so that they don’t advance the ball up the field. The inside linebacker has to be able to understand straight away what the opposition are trying to do and adjust to that to try and stop the play.

LEAN MACHINE
Size isn’t as important as it was in the ’80s when you had to be huge to be a linebacker and just act as a wall. Football has evolved into a more passing game so it’s more beneficial for us to be all-encompassing players rather than simply strong and heavy. We have to have the entire skill set of speed, agility and strength to be able to play at the highest level and keep up with the opposition’s offensive players. So it’s better for us to be muscular but slender so we can still have full range of movement to keep up with the speed of play.

Thurston Armbrister of Jacksonville Jaguars running in black and white (Press Association)

 

HELLO GRITTY
What I have learned while playing at the highest level is that having grit is a huge thing when playing the linebacker role. It doesn’t matter how athletic you are or how much you work out in the gym, when you to step on the field, you need to be prepared for the mental stresses the game is going to put on you. You have to be able to control your emotions and focus on your tasks especially when things aren’t going your way. Outside of playing time, you have to be able to constantly motivate yourself to keep going when you are banged-up and feeling sore from the physical strains. We mostly do this by trying to stay positive, reminding ourselves of what our personal end-goals are and having a good support network of friends and family to turn to.

KILL MASTER
As a linebacker you have to be good at everything and be able to lead the defensive line. Even though our main job is to tackle the offensive player with the ball, we have a lot of other responsibilities too. We have to defend the run the offense is playing and blitz the quarterback, which basically means knowing when to leave our area to go after them. We have to be experts at reading the game and guessing what the opposition are going to do so we can make the right call and coordinate ourselves to stop the play. On top of all of that, we are responsible for man-to-man coverage of speedy wide receivers and defending against the pass in our scrimmage zones. So it’s all about coordinating all those elements with all the other players in the defensive line and being good at everything so we can adjust and react quickly to any situation.

CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT
The difference between a good linebacker and a great linebacker is that the best ones are always looking at ways of getting better at their game. We all have areas that we want to strengthen and improve – there are always ways we can get better as individuals and as a team. We rookies have to be sponges and draw on the experience of older players, asking questions and listening to their advice on how to improve our game. In-season, we do all our training together as a team so that’s a great way to learn, and important when it comes to experience. We’ll give each other advice and give people tips if maybe a player in the opposition has a certain weakness or what to watch out for. Studying is key so we are always switched on, and on the look out for things we can tweak.

Thurston Armbrister of Jacksonville Jaguars kneeling (Press Association)

 

HOT YOGA
Off-season we work at the gym hardcore with lots of weight training to build up our bodies for the impact the season is going to have on us. That means lots of Olympic weight lifting, push-ups, curls and bench presses but it all has to translate on the field. Pretty much anyone can pump iron and get huge but we need to have just enough muscle to protect our bones and body for when we tackle and get tackled but also still be able to retain our full range of movement and be fast. With our lower body strength, all our exercises cater towards having explosive movement and speed, so we do speed squats, lunges and box jumps. Hip and core work is also really important in our sport because we have to be able to rotate and be agile. A good way to do this is through hot yoga. We do it to help with hip flexibility and also after a long workout it can relieve soreness and loosen our muscles, which prevents injury.

FIELD OF DREAMS
Fieldwork is the most important aspect in our training schedule because you don’t play football in the gym. Most of our job is to be reactionary to opposition plays so the more we repeat situations that may happen during a game, the better. We’ll do feet work like ladder drills to keep us light and fast on our feet and focus on explosive starts. This is where we learn all of our trade and where we have to listen closely to our coaches and what we need to look out for. We repeat drills and communication with our teammates because you can be a great individual but, if you aren’t organising well with your defensive teammates, then the opposition will exploit that.

VIDEO GAMES
The exercises we do aren’t always physical. A major part of preparing for the next game is to study the guys we are going up against. We watch lots of reels of their games and look for tendencies and steal a few tips on the regular plays. We do this so we can take advantage of any weaknesses they may have or be aware of potential dangers we might come up against. Obviously putting it into practice is hard but going into a game with more knowledge about your opponent is always better. I also like to play chess to keep my mind sharp and my decision making faster because like football, it’s all about reading your opponent and coming up with different ways to react to their moves.

Images: Press Association

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