Countdown to Training Camp: DAY 9 — Linebackers

Mike Peterson (53) chases down a play. (Phil Skinner / pskinner@ajc.com)

Mike Peterson (53) chases down a play. (Phil Skinner / pskinner@ajc.com)

Birdland – This is the second installment of “COUNTDOWN TO TRAINING CAMP.”

Each morning for the next nine days, we’ll take a quick look at a position group before the players report for camp on July 29. They will hit the field for their first practice on Friday.

The linebackers are up today.

THE REALLY BIG QUESTION: Where is rookie Sean Weatherspoon going to play?

During the offseason, we had to ask head coach Mike Smith if the Falcons had any plans to play some 3-4 defense. The thinking was that Mike Peterson, a former middle linebacker, and Curtis Lofton could play inside with Stephen Nicholas and rookie first-round pick Sean Weatherspoon playing the outside spots.

The Falcons don’t appear to have the ends to play the 3-4, but they do have four linebackers and some depth at the position. Smith re-stated his love for the 4-3 and discarded the notion of going to a 3-4.

Who are going to be the starting linebackers?

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Over the offseason, the Falcons worked out Weatherspoon at both the strongside and weakside positions. It will be

00509 Flowery Branch - Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Greg Pires works with first round draft pick rookie linebacker # 56 Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri, during day 3 of minicamp in Flowery Branch on Sunday, May 9, 2010.   Curtis Compton  ccompton@ajc.com

00509 Flowery Branch - Atlanta Falcons linebackers coach Greg Pires works with first round draft pick rookie linebacker # 56 Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri, during day 3 of minicamp in Flowery Branch on Sunday, May 9, 2010. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

interesting to see where he lines up in training camp. They’ll have to pick a side for him in order to get him ready for the season.

If Weatherspoon can’t beat out Peterson or Nicholas in the base defense, it’s possible that he could earn one of the two nickel linebacker spots. He was solid in coverage  in the pass-happy Big 12 Conference.

FIVE GOALS FOR THE LINEBACKERS IN 2010

  1. Cover running backs better in pass coverage.
  2. Create more turnovers.
  3. Continue to stop the run at an elite level (top 10 level).
  4. Attack the ball better when playing zone pass defense.
  5. Hit the home run  when they are asked to blitz.

Here’s a look at the linebackers:

Mike Peterson:  He had seven games where he finished in double-digits in tackles. He’s just flat out nasty against the run.

Curtis Lofton: He continues to blossom into one of the league’s top tacklers. If his play stays on an upward slope he will get some Pro Bowl consideration in 2010.

Stephen Nicholas: Played well in his first season as a starter.

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had his best game of the season, passing for almost 400 yards against the Falcons. (Associated Press).

Giants quarterback Eli Manning had his best game of the 2009 season, passing for almost 400 yards against the Falcons. (Associated Press).

Sean Weatherspoon: The 19th player selected in the draft. He will need to get his contract done in time so that he doesn’t miss any camp time.

Coy Wire: Steady and versatile veteran, who can play all of the linebacker positions. One of the stars of the specials teams.

Spencer Adkins:  Flashed his speed when he received the opportunity to play on special teams late last season.

*Robert James: If he makes the team, he’ll have to serve his four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. A very fast player who was on the verge of contributing on special teams.

Bear Woods: The dreadlocked wonder from Troy will get a look at middle linebacker.

Weston Johnson: Played outside linebacker for Wyoming in college.

Date, Practice Times (public availability)

Friday, July 30 — Practice 8:30 – 10:10 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (open to the public).

Saturday, July 31 — Practice 8:30 – 10:10 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public).

Sunday, August 1 — Practice 9:35 – 10:30 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:55 p.m. (open to the public).

Monday, August 2 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Tuesday, August 3 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Wednesday, August 4 — Practice 1:30 – 3:40 p.m. (open to the public).

Thursday, August 5 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Friday, August 6 — Practice 10:15 – 11:55 a.m. (open to the public)

Falcons Allstate All-Access “Friday Night Lights”

Team Scrimmage at North Gwinnett High School – 7:30 p.m. (open to the public)

Saturday, August 7 — Mock Game at Flowery Branch – 12:00 p.m. (open to the public)

Sunday, August 8 — No Practice.

Monday, August 9 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH JACKSONVILLE.

Tuesday, August 10 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:50 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH JACKSONVILLE.

Wednesday, August 11 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Thursday, August 12 — Practice 8:50 – 10:55 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 5:15 – 6:15 p.m. (closed to the public).

Friday, August 13 — Preseason Week 1 vs. Kansas City 8 p.m.

Saturday, August 14 –No Practice.

Sunday, August 15 — Practice 9:30 – 11:35 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:25 p.m. (open to the public).

Monday, August 16 — Practice 8:30 – 10:40 a.m. (closed to the public); practice 3:45 – 4:40 p.m. (closed to the public).

Tuesday, August 17 — Practice 8:30 – 10:55 a.m. (open to the public); practice 3:45 – 5:35 p.m. (open to the public). COMBINED PRACTICES WITH NEW ENGLAND.

Wednesday, August 18 — Practice 10:15 – 11:35 a.m. (closed to public).

Thursday, August 19 — Preseason Week 2 vs. New England 8 p.m.

Friday, August 20 — No Practice.

Saturday, August 21 — 9:30 a.m. – 11:35 a.m. (closed to the public); 3:45 p.m. – 5:25 p.m. (closed to the public).

Sunday, August 22 — 9:35 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. (closed to the public)

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96 comments Add your comment

Unca' Bob

July 21st, 2010
7:13 am

Enter your comments here

nes

July 21st, 2010
7:22 am

Always some surprises in players’ second year, look for Adkins to step up into the mix for playing time. Weatherspoon will compete from day 1, just a matter when he takes playing time from Nicholas and Peterson, who actually fell off the last few games last year, a sign of wear and tear during the season, great to have depth at LB position! James probably will be cut at some point due to the falcons’ clean image standard. Can’t wait til practices begin!

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrew Garda and Fantasy Tackles, D. Orlando Ledbetter. D. Orlando Ledbetter said: Countdown to Training Camp: DAY 9 — The linebackers http://bit.ly/dmOiRh [...]

[...] D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previews the Atlanta Falcons linebackers. [...]

The Real Falcon

July 21st, 2010
7:58 am

Let Nicolas be Nicolas. Play him at his natural position.

rekingball

July 21st, 2010
8:06 am

Whopper Dawg

July 21st, 2010
8:09 am

Do you think we have the DEs to play a 4 3?

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
8:21 am

WHOPPER DAWG — Yes.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
8:21 am

THE REAL FALCONS — Do you consider his real position weakside?

D Money

July 21st, 2010
8:22 am

Again, the only worry this team should have is DL (yesterday’s topic). We’re fine at linebacker.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
8:26 am

D Money — But we have to discuss something for the next nine days. Tomorrow, the cornerbacks.

Mikefalcon63

July 21st, 2010
8:34 am

We do have the personnel to be a situational 3-4 team. No sack Jamaal can be at one end, and Babineaux at the other with either Jerry or Johnson at the nose. I just don’t like the idea of being a pure 3-4 team. Plus BVG and Smitty both prefer the 4-3.

Nicholis is a WILL. Frankly, I was surprised when they put Peterson at WILL last season instead of SAM. The issue now is that Spoon is can play either or. From a coverage perspective, do we need better coverage on the tight ends (SAM) or the backs (WILL). My answer is yes to both. So Spoon fits whatever position he plays best at. In the end, it would not surprise me to see him start as a nichel backer, before moving in to take Peterson’s spot.

Bird Dog

July 21st, 2010
8:50 am

DLed, any news on contract negotiations? They are getting down to the wire. Have any other first rounders started signing yet?

robertussen

July 21st, 2010
8:57 am

nicholas was good at stoping the run and rushing the passer. i wonder if hes capable of playing de with spoon petterson and lofton at lb. he may not have the technique though. the coaching staff would know. thats probably why my comment is stupid.

BKJ

July 21st, 2010
9:05 am

If we showed a 3-4 look, wouldn’t it make sense to have John Abraham as the 4th LB? Wouldn’t he stand up and rush the weakside? Babs, Jerry, and Anderson on the DL. ABraham, Spoon, Lofton, and Peterson at LB? It would just be a wrinkle we would throw in there?

BurningRedBleedingBlack

July 21st, 2010
9:08 am

DLed, do you really feel Sean. W will get to start this year and beat out one of the starter from last year?

Hamp

July 21st, 2010
9:18 am

This is a stout bunch probaly the deepest on the defense. I like what we have. I think nicholas will take a step up this year

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
9:41 am

BIRD DOG — Nothing new on Spoon’s negotiations. I reached out to his agent late last night. Haven’t heard back. They were set to start on Monday when the teams’ chief negotiator Nick Polk returned from vacation. HOWEVER, this morning NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith used the word “collusion” on the Mike and Mike show to describe the teams’ approach to signing/not signing first round. Teams may be trying to roll back the first round money in light of the labor situation.

Bird Dog

July 21st, 2010
9:45 am

DLed, thanks that’s interesting stuff. I don’t think I ever recall no first round signings this late in July. It seems as though something is up…

Damon Evans

July 21st, 2010
9:45 am

O G Falcon Fan

July 21st, 2010
10:05 am

I don’t think we have a big enough guy to play nose in a 3-4. We should stick with the 4-3. Maybe use a little 3-4 to confuse the off. from time to time when we play a less experienced QB.

The Falcon who wears Nike

July 21st, 2010
10:14 am

I dont care how or wear they play Weatherspoon Just play him. I recently saw his combine footage and that guy can flat out move. Twice as athletic as any Linebacker we have.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
10:15 am

Damon Evans — Hang in there. Keep your head up.

O G Falcon Fan — It’s moot point, but I think Jerry or Trey Lewis could do it. Peters after a few more trips to Golden Corral.

Bird Dog — Somebody should have pulled the trigger by now. Perhaps they are sending the union a statement.

SeenThisB4

July 21st, 2010
10:21 am

You are 100% correct DLED, the weakest link in the atlanta defense is the defensive line. It’s not a weak link, that’s a broken link.

The linebacker group is indeed much better situated than that porous line, however, that doesn’t mean it is anywhere near the best in league. Depending on a rookie to improve it’s aggressive play is pretty much a roll of the dice.

Just three games into the season Weatherspoon is going to be facing Brees and the Saints. Why do I hear a collective “Gulp!” coming from Flowery Branch every time I say that?

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
10:21 am

BurningRedBleedingBlack — I do believe he will get the chance if he signed on time. It’s about what he does with the chance. You don’t sit the 19th pick on the bench if he can play.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
10:28 am

SeenThisB4 — Well stated point. Over the first quarter of the season it should be Dennis Dixon, Matt Leinart, DREW BREES ans Alex Smith.

GEORGIA

July 21st, 2010
10:28 am

they should rotate spoon in at the beginnig at both olb spots until hes ready…. and dled dosent nicholas play d-end in sum of c.smith wacky formations anyway

GEORGIA

July 21st, 2010
10:34 am

AND IM READY 2 C WAT SPENCER ADKINS IS GOING 2 DO OR IS HE JUST GOIN 2 BE STRICTLY SPECIAL TEAMS CUZ OF ALL THE DEPTH

truth

July 21st, 2010
10:44 am

I assure you SleezThisB4 the Falcons are not at all worried about your beloved aints. You should be more concerned about your teams aging defense, that if memory serves me correct was pretty much covered up by your offense that really didn’t amaze us when they played against, what you call, our “porous” defense. I do remember your defense giving up over 300+ yards passing to our second string QB. Face it SeenThisB4, the journey is over, I hope you really enjoyed the ride.

BeefATL72

July 21st, 2010
11:24 am

SeenThisB4 – You under-estimate our DL, as do most people because they’re so hung up on the stats of one underwhelming season. Our pass rush was 28th, but our pressures were top 5, & most people just don’t understand what that means. Several things played a part in this.
1. Weak pass coverage at the secondary = QB’s have targets to throw at early (this has been addressed & should be significantly improved upon… ie. Robinson, Spoon, releasing of Houston & Hill). It’s a reciprocal relationship between pass coverage & pass rush. Both suffer exponentially when one or the other is weak. And visa-versa, they compound each other when both are strong.
2. Jerry missing = decreased inside pressure & more double-teams on Abe. Jerry is an absolute beast. Watch his film. He’s an impact player that will require significantly more attention than Johnson or Walker did, which will free up Abe to do what he does best.
3. Lack of depth on DL in general. Jerry back, Peters added, & Anderson gaining 20+ lbs (we will see him at DT WAY more than DE, mark my words) is a huge deal. Johnson, Walker, & Lewis(if he makes the 53), who are all “second string” caliber rotational players, will actually do what they are there for, to only play a few downs here & there when the impact players need a breather.
Biermann is ready to take the starting LDE job. Between his early start on training along with the MMA training mixed in plus our suspected improvement with DT pressure inside, he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year. And with all these improvements combined (pass coverage, inside pressure, less double-teams) Abe really should have a big bounce-back year too.
Our DL is not near the “weak link” people think it is.

truth

July 21st, 2010
11:36 am

People need to remember what the d-line was doing at the start of last season when the entire line was healthy.

Kane337

July 21st, 2010
11:40 am

You left out a goal…..

6. Defend the screen pass.

The Falcons were horrid against the screen in 2009. So many 3rd and long conversions with the screen by opposing teams.

BeefATL72

July 21st, 2010
11:45 am

It doesn’t make sense to play 3-4 schemes as all this does is take our best pass rusher off the field. And Abraham can’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) defend the pass, so standing him up 2-3 yards off the line would only telegraph who/where the stunt/blitz is coming from & tells the opposing QB where the open TE or HB dump pass needs to be while simply adding 3 steps to Abe getting to the QB or ball carrier & that’s just silly. And if you put Abe on the line in a 3-4 set, now he’s ALWAYS double-teamed & the OLB’s get tangled up with FB’s & TE’s. It’s just not our style of play. The 4-3 keeps the opposing OC guessing because there’s less telegraphing of pass coverage set vs. run coverage set, & that’s the point.
Peterson won’t be with us next year, remember that. Nicolas proved he can play Sam & is willing to absorb lead blockers (and not whine about it) which gives Lofton & Peterson all the tackle glory, on top of also getting a couple sacks. This is how you earn a starting job. Spoon will likely come in at Will on passing downs, Peterson on running downs, & by mid season when Peterson runs out of steam (like he did last year), Spoon will take over all 3 downs, IMHO.

terrance X

July 21st, 2010
11:47 am

Phil Villapiano

SeenThisB4

July 21st, 2010
11:50 am

truth: Yup, you’re right about our defense. It was anemic at best last year, AND may I add, for your enlightenment, not very deep. However, the starters did get the job done, when it counted.

The Saints weakness, which is also a falcant weakness this year, is that you could run at them at will. WE COULDN’T STOP A RUN AT A MACY’s SALE ON HOISERY. However, that is not to say that our defense was completely inept. We did, and do, have a very healthy, very experienced, very deep secondary and cornerback staff.

Why is that important? Because most teams, like the falcants, once they got down say by 10 points or so, would abandon their running game and pulled all the stops on passing game. In other words, they would resort to attacking our defensive strength. Our defense led the league in scoring points bud, and your defense doesn’t score points unless it has taken the ball away from the offense first.

@BeefAtl72: You are still depending on a rookie at OLB, Mr. Weatherspoon, whom Drew Brees and Sean Payton have already targeted for exploitation! He might end up being your most highly paid LB, but he is going to get burnt this year because he’s a rookie. And Jerry played in how many games last year before going down? 2? Yes, that makes him a rookie, as well, for all intents and purposes. Biermann on the other hand, yup, can’t down play him at all. But hey, the Saints held their own against some of the league’s best DE’s last year.

hiramsaint

July 21st, 2010
12:01 pm

what to do, what to do- even smitty sais he has the personnel for the 3-4 but he prefers the 4-3. this is where a head coach, instead of a asst. def coach , could help the falcants out.

Kane337

July 21st, 2010
12:02 pm

and other one you forgot….

3rd down defense.

The Falcons created a lot of 3rd and long opportunities on defense last season but as soon as the other team had to throw it was very easy for them.

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:04 pm

SeenThis B4….you should check up on how well the Falcons defended the run. Also, re-read your first two paragraphs, seems you contradicted yourself.

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:09 pm

Hey Ken, Hiram’s here ready for another smackdown. BWAA HA HA!!!!!

D. Orlando Ledbetter

July 21st, 2010
12:12 pm

Kane 337 — That would fall under No. 1.

hiramsaint

July 21st, 2010
12:15 pm

the falcons defended the run because no-one ran on them , the passing on your secondary was wide open all day log and dunta, IF healthy can’t cover the whole field . i will not entertain any more of kens LONG WINDED tutorials. he believes what mark, jeff and matty slush tell him to whereas i know what i know

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:16 pm

Once the Falcons fix the 3rd and long situation it’s over for opposing offenses.

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:17 pm

Hiram that last post was laughable.

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:18 pm

Dumb dork, if you watched any of the games they tried like crazy to run on the Falcons. Again it was the 3rd and longs that killed the defense and that will be fixed.

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:20 pm

When will I ever learn stupid(hiram) don’t understand true logic(truth) :)

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:20 pm

Be careful Hiram, I’m baiting the hook.

SeenThisB4

July 21st, 2010
12:23 pm

truth: The falcants were defensively ranked 21st, the Saints were defensively ranked 25th. Neither team has much to boast about last year’s defensive performance.

Who got better on defense during the off-season. Right now, on paper, I give the nod to the falcants. We lost Fujita, and that does hurt, and the falcants picked up Weatherspoon, who looks like he could be a gem.

But, even so, the Saints picked up Super Bowl rings last month….I think that’s better than picking up Weatherspoon.

Just remember, truth, The Saints aren’t going to be hung over for the season just because the pundits write it. There’s a nucleus of very determined veterans at Saints training camp that have been putting lots of time into preparing for having an even better season this year, than last year.

hiramsaint

July 21st, 2010
12:23 pm

i’ve already set mine but i should throw a shrimp [truth] like you back–LOL

SeenThisB4

July 21st, 2010
12:26 pm

hiramsaint: Don’t throw the shrimp back! Boil it!

truth

July 21st, 2010
12:30 pm

True SeenThis about the Saints not having a hang over but they will be without alot of pain pills that kept your aging defense on the field. We’ll see how all that turns out this year.