What Is The Mike In American Football? (Fun Facts!)

Last Updated on October 15, 2023 by Alex PT

The Mike in American football is the middle linebacker, often called the “quarterback of the defense.” He is responsible for relaying the defensive play calls and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He typically is the most experienced and athletic linebacker on the defense.

The “Mike” In American Football

Mike is a player in a football team who aligns behind the defensive tackles, in the middle of the defense and he’s normally known as the middle linebacker on defense. The defense play calls are called out by Mike as he leads the defense. He’s also nicknamed the quarterback of the defense. Luke Kuechly and Leighton Vander Esch are typical examples of top linebackers in the NFL. For the records, “Sam” and “Will are the two other linebacker positions in a football team. The Will is often referred to as the weak-side linebacker while Sam is known as the strong-side linebacker. 

Why Does The Quarterback Call Out The Mike On Offense?

The overall performance of the “Mike” on the field isn’t affected or influenced when he’s being called out by the center or quarterback of the opposition player. A quarterback must identify who is moving and doubling to the next level from the opposition team even though it is a run-blocking scheme. More of a reason why they normally say “53 is the Mike” is that it is easier to say than “53 in the middle”. 

Is The Quarterback The Only Player To Call Out The Mike?

Not really. We’ve seen other players in the team, like the center, call out Mike during a football game. Since the center’s main duty is to stabilize and adjust the protection of the defense, he may make the calls as well. Don’t be surprised when you see a center pointing at a player as he touches the ball. 

Let’s say, for instance, top players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are two professional football players who have been able to stabilize and adjust the protection of the defense. The offensive lineman of an opposition team can be put in the best position by an experienced and skilled player with an understanding of defensive concepts. When a team has a younger quarterback running the show, it will be a great balance to have a good center. 

Various Variations Of Calling Out The “Mike”

Just like we said above, not only do the centers make the call. Sometimes, quarterbacks shout a number and point to a player. Whosoever is designated as “the Mike” on the opposition team will be pointed at and the center or the quarterback will mention his number aloud: 53! 53!

Why Do Linebackers Have First Names In Football?

In American football, linebackers sometimes have first names because of the defensive play-calling and communication process. Here’s why:

  1. Communication: Linebackers are often responsible for relaying play calls and adjustments to the rest of the defense. Using first names simplifies communication, as it is typically quicker and more effective than using surnames, which can be longer and more challenging to shout during the game.
  2. Efficiency: Football is a fast-paced, physically demanding sport, and every second matters. First names are succinct and easily distinguishable, making them ideal for quick and precise communication on the field.
  3. Clarity: In the midst of a chaotic game, using first names can reduce confusion. It’s easier for players to recognize their own first names when a linebacker is making a call or directing them on the field.
  4. Personal Connection: Football is a team sport, and personal connections and camaraderie among players are crucial. Using first names can foster a sense of unity and rapport within the team.
  5. Tradition and Preference: Football traditions and practices often emerge through coaching styles and player preferences. Some coaches and players prefer using first names as part of their team culture.

The Mike Linebacker’s Responsibilities

The “Mike” linebacker in American football, also known as the middle linebacker, plays a central role in the defense. Their responsibilities are diverse and crucial to the team’s success:

  1. Play Calling: The Mike linebacker often serves as the defensive signal-caller, relaying the coach’s play call to the rest of the defense. They read the offensive formation and audible, if necessary, to adjust the defense accordingly.
  2. Run Defense: Stopping the run is a primary responsibility. The Mike linebacker must diagnose run plays, fill gaps, shed blocks, and make tackles to prevent the ball carrier from advancing. They are the “quarterback” of the defense against the run.
  3. Pass Coverage: In passing situations, the Mike linebacker may be responsible for covering running backs, tight ends, or slot receivers in short-to-intermediate routes. They need to read the quarterback’s intentions and react to the pass.
  4. Blitzing: The Mike linebacker is often utilized as a pass rusher in blitz packages. They must time their blitz effectively to pressure the quarterback or disrupt passing plays.
  5. Zone Coverage: In zone defenses, the Mike linebacker drops back into specific zones to help defend against passes. They must read the quarterback’s eyes, cover open areas, and be prepared to break on the ball.
  6. Gap Control: The Mike linebacker is responsible for maintaining gap integrity in run defense. They need to plug running lanes and force ball carriers to specific areas where other defenders can make tackles.
  7. Leadership: As a key communicator and decision-maker on the field, the Mike linebacker provides leadership and helps align the defense correctly. They must inspire and organize the defense while making quick decisions.
  8. Diagnosing Plays: Mike linebackers are skilled at recognizing offensive formations and tendencies, enabling them to make pre-snap adjustments and anticipate the opponent’s plays.
  9. Tackling: Effective tackling is essential. Mike linebackers must bring down ball carriers quickly and reliably, preventing yardage gains after contact.
  10. Pursuit and Sideline-to-Sideline Range: They need the ability to cover ground quickly from sideline to sideline, pursuing ball carriers or defending against passes in different parts of the field.


We’ve made a list of the frequently asked questions and answers for a better insight into the middle linebacker and quarterback position. 

Is The Middle Linebacker The Hardest Position In Football? 

No! The cornerback is the most difficult position in the NFL team. Players in this position are normally strong, fast, minor in stature, and agile. 

Is The Quarterback The Safest Position In Football?

No! The Offensive line is the safest position in the NFL team because it isn’t targeted by any player. The only duty of players in the offensive line is to block

Types Of Linebacker 

There are four major types of linebackers in American football. Each type has its own duty and expectations on the field even if the basic duty of a linebacker is to tackle the offensive player with the ball. For you to have an insight into the complex world of the linebacker in American football, we’ve discussed in detail the four major types. 

True Linebacker: The true linebackers are the ones that line up in the traditional linebacker position located behind the defensive linemen. These players are aligned according to the call from the defense. They are normally four yards away from the line of scrimmage. 

Sam Linebacker: The Sam linebackers are the linebackers that secure the movements in the tight ends and line up directly across from the tight end. Their main duty is to disorganize the tight end’s release off the line of scrimmage as he attempts to run for a pass. He has to then make moves to balance the play. The linebacker does two things depending on the defensive call: moves away from the line of scrimmage and makes a pass drop or rushes the passer. Sam linebackers are usually lanky preferably 6’4” or taller. Their heights help them quickly see over the right end during the game. 

Willy Linebacker: The Willy linebacker is a weak-side linebacker with a different task on the field. Depending on the defensive call, a Willy linebacker drops into coverage or rushing the passer. Generally, these linebackers are normally small in stature, and fast and nimble than other types of linebackers. 

Mike Linebacker: The Mike linebacker is very well sorted by every player who loves the game of American football. In a 4-3 defense, the Mike linebacker is also known as the middle linebacker and his main duty is to line up in the middle of the field at a position that is directly opposite to the center of the offense. Also, these players control the defense with directions and buzzes and make great tackles. His position in the middle of the defense makes him capable of stabilizing the quarterback and the running backs. 

Final Thoughts 

Just like we stated above, Mike is the middle linebacker playing as the quarterback of the defense. Mike mostly directs shifts and makes strategic changes according to the offensive movement of his team. We’ve reached the closing chapter of this informative article. We hope you were able to find good resources in your quest to know the meaning of Mike in American football. If you have any questions or comments about the article topic, don’t hesitate to contact us. Thanks.



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