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So what exactly is the "Ted" linebacker?

I know many readers of Niners Nation know what the "Ted" linebacker is and how that position fits into the 49ers 3-4 scheme.  While I have a general understanding of the 3-4 and the "Ted," I have still been quite curious about the position.  One of the primary position battles in training camp will be for the "Ted" linebacker position, so it would seem useful to get some information on the position.  We know the player lines up next to tackling machine Patrick Willis and was manned by Derek Smith last year.

As I lack truly insightful knowledge into some of the intricacies of the position, I decided to do a little research and get some help filling the in the holes.  For that, I turned to hoosierteacher, an author over at Mile High Report.  For those that don't know, hoosierteacher writes a weekly column titled "MHR University."  Each week he educates folks on the intricacies of football.  He's covered everything from Nickel formations, to the different types of 3-4 defenses to zone blocking.  Hoosierteacher has worked as an assistant coach in football at the high school level and attended a variety of coaching seminars and has some good contacts in the industry.

So I shot him an email and he provided some of his own insight into the "Ted" position.  If any pertinent questions or comments arise I'll be happy to pass them along if he doesn't catch them here.  This came via email so the language is a little more casual at times.

First, you are correct on the assessment of your TED position.  If you look at my article on the 3-4 systems run in the NFL, the 49ers run the "Fairbanks-Bullough" system, the same classic two-gap system run by NE with only minor tweaks.  Your TED certainly is tasked with clearing the way for the MIKE.  Not many folks watch the game closely enough to pick up on those kinds of assignments, but you've done your homework.  Your defensive linemen are all 2 gaps, and are able to be rotated amongst each other for different looks (your team can throw in 4-3 looks easier than most 3-4 teams).

You'll also have to forgive me for using the term "WILL".  The extent of my experience is HS ball (I coordinated defenses for several years) and some very nice seminars I was sent to. I have a (nerdy) passion for researching football systems, particularly defensive and historical.  I've learned that some terms I use are correct, some are correct depending on the region or what level of the game is discussed in, and sometimes I am flat out wrong.  I've seen the term used both ways, but while researching my thoughts on the 49ers I saw the term TED is by far more common when referencing the Niners, so I will use your term.

The keys to the TED for your system are as follows (in my opinion):

1) The player should not be expensive.

That may sound like a strange qualifier, but for the TED position as run in the Fairbanks-Bullough it is true.  The player in this position is not the "sexy" LB that fills the other two roles.  Your OLBs need to generate a pass rush (they had a rough time last year, but management seems to believe the same personnel can rebound).  The MIKE is the more flexible of the two ILBs, and much more valuable in terms of salary.

Oddly enough, I doubt the MIKE in your system calls the adjustments or personnel to match offenses.  I can't be sure, but in most Fairbanks-Bulloughs it is one of the safeties who is responsible for reading the offense.  Take that with a grain of salt, since I am not entirely familiar with how the 49ers run the game-time coaching coordination.  But I'm off on a tangent there.

2. He has to be physical (tough).

The TED is clearing the way to the QB, and he is doing this in the toughest environment of all; the center of the trench.  He not only faces the centers and guards, but the FB and maybe a RB.  If the DL can clear a path to the backfield of the offense, it is not unreasonable to assume that the TED may have to shoulder aside an OL being tied up on the line, plus block another offensive pass blocker.  It is a very physical position.

3. Despite not being a sexy role, the TED actually has to be pretty smart.

It is one thing to go after the QB (like the MIKE).  It is quite another thing to possess the situational awareness to keep many things in one's head at the same time.  Where is the QB, where is the MIKE I'm blocking for, where are the pass blockers, and in which direction are they all moving?  Factor in that these mental gymnastics area at game speed, under stress, and with little oxygen to go on.

The TED can (of course) be used in several roles within the same system, but blocking to the QB is the role your TED would most be graded on.  The role also adjusts based on the type of offensive system you are playing against, as well as match-ups in terms of players.  Considerations include how an opposing team uses backs as tackles, tendencies for misdirection, zone blocking, types and frequency of play action, tendencies of the opposing QB under pressure, and whether a team is prone to screen passes.

As far as who might replace Smith, you and your readers have a much better handle on that than me.  I really like Ulbrich, but I have a bias for fast LBs too.  He's not really all that big, and might be misused as a TED in your system.  He did well late last year stepping in, so I could be wrong.  I just don't know if he could go the season without getting hurt.  I don't know enough about your depth chart beyond that.