The middle linebacker is the heartbeat of the defense. As the leader, motivator and play caller the MLB is tasked with guiding and adjusting the defense to counteract the offensive assault.
The most important trait of the MLB, or field general, is pure, unadulterated football instinct. While athletic ability is paramount for nearly every other position on the field, a middle linebacker is at his best when he dissects the offense and reacts to the ball efficiently. The goal is to be patient and process all of the information an offense gives and attack the ball within the shortest time and distance possible.
How does Ben Heeney meet the criteria of a great middle linebacker? To the tape!
Objective #1 - Always be fluid, never stop moving
In this first clip we see Heeney in zone coverage on a passing down. Notice his eyes follow the quarterback, his feet constantly moving and, while the play unfolds outside his assignment area, Heeney's motion carries him to an excellent interception.
In the second video (1st and 10) Heeney motions with the TE shift while maintaining his coverage responsibility. Henney's momentum has him in a position to follow the HB toss and meet the RB at the far sideline. Note how Heeney takes the straightest possible path to the ball while avoiding blockers and his own teammates.
Objective #2 - Make the read, be quick to the ball
(in that order)
Here we see Heeney's patience at its best. The captain is on his toes but calmly waits for the offensive line to open the hole.
On this first-and-25 play Heeney stays behind the RB coming out of the backfield without giving him too much room (typical in such a long yardage situation) or over crowding him in an attempt to make a big play. As soon as the pass leaves the QB's hands, Heeney is there to make the tackle.
Objective #3 - Strength and agility against run game
This is one of my favorite Heeney highlights and it speaks for itself. 3rd-and-goal from the one and Heeney beats the speedy RB to the edge for a two yard loss...priceless.
In this play Heeney pauses on the developing run and is meet in the 2nd level by the RG. He has the strength to fight off the block and the speed to assist with the TD saving tackle and nearly a turnover.
Objective #4 - Awareness in pass coverage
(3rd and 8) KU goes man coverage against the five wideouts. Heeney breaks perfectly on the throw (poorly thrown but but that's another blog's problem). Heeney knows he has support over the top giving him the freedom to stay on the inside hip of the receiver and it pays off.
Objective #5 - Just be awesome
With the anticipated strength of this season's secondary allowing Heeney to maintain a presence near the LOS I believe he will put up first team Big-12 numbers. Ultimately Heeney has the tools and support to have a really special season. Please let us know what you think in the comments!