As a former middle linebacker, I like to pay special attention to that position when watching a game. In particular, I like to watch the performance of Wali Rainer.
First of all, I think Wali has the ability to play on this level. I've really appreciated what I've seen from him, but I think there are some things that Wali needs to do that would help his game immensely.
We saw portions of it prior to his recent injury. At the time he got hurt, Wali was playing the best he has in the three years he has been here.
The injury kind of set him back a bit and it'll take a little time for him to get re-acclimated, especially now that they are platooning him with Brant Boyer. Platooning always takes a toll on a player. A lot of coaches don't seem to realize that, but when you platoon players, it really takes a player out of the game.
At the same time, it can help you stay in the game because you would much rather platoon than not play at all.
I like Wali's size (6-2, 245). He has a knack for the game. He loves to hit. Those are the things I like in him.
What I'd like to see Wali do more of is attack the line of scrimmage from the standpoint of knowing exactly what the play is before it actually happens.
What I mean by that is that from every formation, a team has a tendency. Every down and distance a team has a tendency. As a middle linebacker, we are taught, or should be taught and trained, what those formations and tendencies are when the ball is snapped and the play starts to develop, the middle linebacker must make a quick determination and get to the point of attack.
Wali was not doing a good job of diagnosing the play early on in his career, but he's doing a much better job of it now. Or at least he was prior to the injury.
By being able to quickly diagnose a play, it will allow him to prevent blockers from getting to his body. He has a tendency to let players get to his body.
Because of that, instead of playing up the line of scrimmage, he has a tendency to play down the line of scrimmage, which causes him to make plays further down the field. He needs to start attacking the line of scrimmage.
At this point, I don't know if Wall will ever be the type of middle linebacker who can go out and dominate a game, ala a Mike Singletary. I think Wali fits in with a good defensive scheme of things. Wali is a good football player right now and can be developed into a fine football player.
I like Wali because I see a lot of myself in him. I wish I had the opportunity to help him. I'm not taking anything away
from his current coaches, but I wish I had an opportunity to work with Wali Rainer and pass on the knowledge that I have.
I guarantee you, Wali Rainer would be a better football player than he is right now
The first thing I would teach him is how to attack the line of scrimmage. Any linebacker can go down the field and make tackles when you're not blocked. But can you beat the guard when he pulls and make a negative play in the backfield?
Most great linebackers are making the plays in the backfield for two or three-yard losses on the running plays.
The offensive teams sit there and try to figure out how in the world he does that. Well, the answer is simple. That middle linebacker knew what the play was before it actually took place. He understood the tendencies.
So what I would do is teach him the tendencies of the opponent. There would be no game in which he would play where he would walk out there and not know, in a second-and-five situation, what the offense was going to run out of a certain formation.
It's not that Wali isn't a smart person, but I'd teach him to be an intelligent football player and make the intelligent decisions and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Personally, it didn't take me long to learn those type of things because I was always that type of player. In addition, in Dave Adolph I had the luxury of having as my mentor the best coach who never had an opportunity to be a head coach.
Dave taught us how to go to daylight. Those were his key words... "go to daylight". What daylight basically means is that there is a void. If you can see it, the running back can see it. Now, you must get to the void before the running back or the offensive lineman gets there.
One Wali Rainer learns to do those things and does them on a consistent basis, he can be a very good player in the National Football League.
This article was originally published in the 12/03/2001 premiere issue of Bernie's Insiders Magazine.