Posted: 7:24 am Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

What’s next for the Falcons at linebacker? 

By D. Orlando Ledbetter

FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons linebacker Weatherspoon, the team’s first-round pick in the 2010 draft (19th overall), was headed into a contract season before rupturing his Achilles tendon while running with the training staff on Tuesday.

Now, all three of the starting linebackers for the Falcons in the NFC championship game against San Francisco after the 2012 season, are out of the lineup. Akeem Dent lost his job during last season and Stephen Nicholas was released over the offseason.

The Falcons, who played most of last season with Paul Worrilow, Joplo Bartu, Weatherspoon and Dent in the top spots, have been revamping the unit. They selected four linebackers in the draft.

Worrilow and Bartu were undrafted rookies last season. Worrilow led the team in tackles with 137 and Bartu was third on the team with 96.

“The two guys who ended up playing a bunch of games and snaps for us last year, have improved and matured, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu,” Smith said. “If you would have told me this time last year that those two guys, one was going to be our leading tackler and the other was going to play over 70 percent of the snaps, I would have looked at you and said ‘I don’t think so.’ They are much more mature. We went through some growing pains with them last year and that is going to pay some dividends going forward.”

The Falcons drafted Prince Shembo in the fourth round (139th overall), Marquis Spruill in the fifth-round (168th overall), Yawin Smallwood and Tyler Starr in the seventh-round, 253rd and 255th overall.

“I really like the rookie class that we brought in,” Smith said. “I think that there are three guys that if they don’t help us on defense right away, they are going to be able to help us on special teams.”

PHASE THREE OF OFFSEASON PROGRAM

–Today, – OTA No. 8.

–Thursday, June 12 – OTA No. 9.

–Friday, June 13 – OTA No. 10.

–Monday, June 16 – Physicals.

–Tuesday, June 17 — Day One: Mandatory minicamp (5 practices over three days)

–Wednesday, June 18 – Day Two: Mandatory minicamp.

–Thursday, June 19 – Day Three: Mandatory minicamp. (Offseason program ends for veterans).

TBA – Rookie Symposium

TBA – (Late July) – Report to Training camp.

 DRAFT CLASS STORIES

Jake Matthews brings strength of family to the Falcons

Ra’Shede Hageman could turn into defensive force for Falcons

Dezmen Southward ready to compete for playing time

Warrick Dunn likes the pick of FSU’s Devonta Freeman

Falcons signed 20 undrafted rookie free agents, 5 from SEC 

Falcons invite 24 players in for tryouts

NFL Draft 2014: ESPN’s Todd McShay on the Falcons’ draft class

VIDEO: Reaction to the Atlanta Falcons’ 2014 draft class

THE ATLANTA FALCONS 2014 DRAFT CLASS

Round 1 / 6 — Jake Matthews, RT, 6-5, 308, Texas A&M

Round 2/37 – Ra’Shede Hageman, DE, 6-6, Minnesota

Round 3/68 – Dezmen Southward, FS, 6-0, 211, Wisconsin

Round 4/103 – Devonta Freeman, RB, 5-8, 206, Florida State

Round 4/139 – Prince Shembo, LB, 6-1, 253 Notre Dame

Round 5/147 – Ricardo Allen, CB, 5-9, 187, Purdue

Round 5/168 – Marquis Spruill, LB, 6-1, 231, Syracuse

Round 7/253 – Yawin Smallwood, LB, 6-2, 246, Connecticut

Round 7/255 – Tyler Starr, LB, 6-4, 250, South Dakota

45 comments
gobige
gobige

D was hot garbage last year-looks like we are going through another rebuilding year. I wonder if we are going to go through the same futility of replacing impact players with cheap cut bait that no one else wants like last year.

Wonder how much longer til Julio is gone for the rest of this year. Julio and Weatherspoon are great talents, but simply cannot stay healthy.

KDinFL
KDinFL

I think Vilma has one year left in him and can be a great replacement for Weatherspoon. He plays the Mike and I think Weatherspoon plays Will but they should be able to move a couple of guys around and make it work.

PeachtreeBart
PeachtreeBart

Looks like the Falcons will be taking the top linebacker in the draft next year.  Clearly, they'll be well-positioned to do so.  

DarlaLewis
DarlaLewis

You can't just cut a player without figuring out how much it effects your cap. If you take your emotions out of it. A general manager can only draft a player, no one can determined if a player get's injured or not. Here's what I know--- my opinion and the rest of these blog post don't matter. Only Mr. Bank, the general manager the coach and the staff opinion matters. If you think you can write a blog post and they pay attention to what you say, you're delusional.

Dsyelxia
Dsyelxia

I am so done with Spoon.

JSSN
JSSN

Well it is back to "Scheme, scheme, scheme"...You made an injury-prone player your primary defensive play caller. Meanwhile as Dr. Kwong pointed out: “He’s going to be very weak with his push-off,” Kwong said. “He’s not going to have the strength to have explosive movements pushing off. That’s mainly it. The weakness of the calf muscle doesn’t give you good control of your knee and your ankle. That’s going to limit his ability to push-off, run and change direction.” But, the other player in the grand scheme, Kroy Biermann is being dependent upon to accomplish those things. Good luck with that.

Pastamon
Pastamon

We drafted 4 linebackers but Coach Smith says that 3 can help us either on defense or special teams. Who is he leaving out? Is someone already out based on OTAs?

BigAlHeBDMan
BigAlHeBDMan

Maybe we shouldn't have let Lofton walk to the Saints. He's been healthy and played every game for them since.

ChopChamps95
ChopChamps95

I don't really care who takes over for Weatherspoon as long as it isn't Akeem Dent.  He brings no real value to this team other than he's than a warm body that fills out the 53 man roster.  Its early enough where Dimitroff could still sign a vet that still has something left in the tank to a 1 year deal.  But if that doesn't happen, I'd rather see one of the rookies get the bulk of the time over Dent.

Ackshun
Ackshun

I'm not sure this is as devastating as it may look. Spoon's good no doubt, but as a player you are paid to be available. He really hasn't been and unfortunately the Falcons have learned to live without him.  They already had a plan in place in case he wasn't 100% after last year's injury. The only serious hit here is to his FA value.


GeorgiaSECFan
GeorgiaSECFan

Cut Spoon. He is done. Get a healthy player.

Leviathan
Leviathan

Weatherspoon is a loss but this guy has never been a consistent difference maker anyway. He'll be resigned on a 1 yr prove it type deal for vet min as the Falcons FO can't stand seeing young injury prone talent leave Flowery Branch.

BeastOPS
BeastOPS

Not too worried about this loss.  He was on his way out anyways...

The guy stays hurt and probably would've been lost by week 3.  It's better to happen now.

Kushdawg
Kushdawg

And the hits just keep on coming!

DforDawgs
DforDawgs

Hey DLed don't listen to these goobers. You just report the news you're not supposed to be an English Professor. I got your back!


We need to cut Spoon. Hope these news guys bring game.

RuePaulJohnson
RuePaulJohnson

You cannot make the Club in the tub...................

The time has come to cut his behind and give him an injury settlement.

Barves_Loss_Agian
Barves_Loss_Agian

I done told U all he was a fist round bust cuz he is injruy prone. This all fals on Tommy Dummytroff

JLTee
JLTee

Boy Khalil Mack would have looked good in a Falcons uniform right about now...#wehavenoplaymakersondefense

GSU93
GSU93

Arguabely the worst LB group in the NFL. You're in deep poop when your saying your top 2 guys were undrafted free agents. And this year's group has no one drafted higher than 4th round...oh boy.

Dasdguy
Dasdguy

Prince Shembo may be getting reps sooner than planned.

BigAlHeBDMan
BigAlHeBDMan

@KDinFL Interestingly enough, Vilma was replaced by Lofton on the Saints and was actually a good coverage LB, and we're talking about signing him. If he was still a player, would the Saints have cut him. He was the QB of their defense during their Super Bowl year. 

JSSN
JSSN

@Pastamon

Didn't Smith say Smallwood was a project out of the grouping drafted LBs? 

DOrlandoLedbetter
DOrlandoLedbetter moderator

@GeorgiaSECFan He's only 26. It won't cost much to keep him. They'll likely sign him to a one-year make good deal like they did Mike Johnson and Corey Peters. If he makes it back, they may have a player. Coach Smith is expecting him to contribute by coaching up the young players this season. 

BigHittas
BigHittas

based on last year's performances I'd take Worrilow over Lofton anyday.

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@DOrlandoLedbetter @BigAlHeBDMan


Guys please, lets temper the talk of Lofton! Is that Vernon Davis or ( he should be happy he is a AINT now) or Jimmy Graham running by him again?  He could not cover a bed with a sheet! Come on guys, he was beat like a rented mule when he tried to cover someone! No love lost for Lofton! He played the run decent to good but after being abused by those TE and others in the NFL we all were chipping in to get him a ticket out of town! Not to mention that he wanted to much and that is the reason he was not a Falcon. 

JSSN
JSSN

@DOrlandoLedbetter @BigAlHeBDMan

The Falcons always panicked in terms of potential free market players more than any team I can remember for those supposedly entering their prime.

Iluvnutella
Iluvnutella

@DOrlandoLedbetter @GeorgiaSECFan  love ur glass half full approach.....Spoon is just another in a long line of Dimitroff first round busts.....Dude should not b allowed near the draft till the third day.

BigHittas
BigHittas

Totally agree on Lofton. Good run LB but sucked in pass coverage and stil does. And A. Dent is a minor league version of Lofton.
No regrets on him leaving the ATL from this fan.
I will have to say however that I'd be highly in favor of signing Vilma to a one year deal.

JSSN
JSSN

@AnsweredTHIS @DOrlandoLedbetter

Considering all they've done (chasing an adequate replacement), it's cost them that and more now. Being fair to Lofton, he covers way better now  than he ever did in Atlanta. He no longer comes off the field during passing downs. They just weren't willing to pay him what eventually became $5.5M a year against the Cap. Tampa lucked in finding a replacement that Atlanta wanted desperately The Edwards, Robinson, and Clybo deals and the escalators in the Ryan deal had them hard against the old CBA end of the League year number. Love Lofton or Hate Lofton, he did something that no other member outside of Biermann did, stayed healthy. The real problem is they skipped on Patrick Willis back in '07 when they had chance to draft him. Akeem Dent is weighing around them like an oversize anchor. Chasing replacement value. Hey call Lofa back up!

FalconUGAFan
FalconUGAFan

@JSSN  What do you attribute Lofton's improved coverage skills to? Do you think he is being better coached or do you think he took all the pass protection talk personally and worked to improve himself?

JSSN
JSSN

@DavidFalcon @Leviathan

Just realize it is "mediocre" and/or substandard. But making that generalization is more of what is "wrong" with the Nation than  any work that might be. That is because it means you cannot work with those who might be just trying to do their job earnestly. That's not "settling." Settling is letting people crap on you and not trying to get out of the way when falls on you and accepting it! Dave's got a tight organization. They have glaring errors too! He's knows it. If Ledbetter's print work and the MyAJC stuff were typically filled with errors, I'd go back to dogging him. Yeah, I use to get on him worse than you folks ever could about the free stuff. But unlike my online acquaintances with the multiple user names, I made a point to read the print version to see if it carried over. It did not.

JSSN
JSSN

@Rory_Bellows 

Hmmm, you tell me since "to to" is considered proper in your form of the lexicon? Moreover, an ellipsis with five dots somehow goes over for functional use in your grammar rules as well. So, keep on firing those criticisms. They are truly making inroads!

JSSN
JSSN

@FalconUGAFan 

They keep him out of running across formations in traffic a lot.  They really worked him back into areas not having to maintain coverage responsibilities past 20 yards deep and almost always between the hashes. He brackets way more now than in Atlanta. They trusted their safeties a lot more. I can't tell you the number of times I saw Lofton have to vacate the middle beyond the hashes in Atlanta covering for the safeties. 

I heard Vernon Davis's name flipped out there earlier. Look, that was one of the great performances ever by a tight end in a post season game. Right up there with John Mackey and Kellen Winslow. SF flexed him in motion. They ran picks for him, and they  lined him up in the backfield and ran off the linebackers to clear him. THere's more than one way to get at a MIKE LB or a weak covering SS/FS combos. That's what I saw. 

AnsweredTHIS
AnsweredTHIS

@BigAlHeBDMan @DavidFalcon @JSSN


He wont be missed! Heck when was the last time he played a full season?  It would have been nice to have him in a contract year to see how he would produce, however I think with what happened last year ( the whole LB corp going down) it gave these young guys a chance to play and I think they proved they can play in the league.  They will need some help ( hope Nolan has his tophat to pull out some tricks) but if I had to say if it was season breaking............NOPE!

JSSN
JSSN

@AnsweredTHIS @BigAlHeBDMan 

Does that mean I have to add Glenn Pires to the miracle worker list? He's done wonders with Akeem Dent, Robert James, and Jerrell Harris ;) Worrilow and Bartu must have saved his job in the purge!


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